Tag: teen lit

The Giver

The Giver (The Giver, #1)The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the 3rd dystopian novel I’ve read this year and I’ve realized I don’t really like them. They are too drab and pessimistic for my tastes. I always have a hard time believing that people would really let things get so bad. Anyone else struggle with relating to dystopian novels?

That said, there is a lot to like in Lowry’s story. My favorite element is the philosophical discussion about being and the same. In philosophy we learn that human beings have a natural tendency towards sameness. For example, instead of looking at someone as a unique creature with identity we turn them into a slave, a woman, a Mormon whatever. This allows us to treat people in the same way and usually that means with less respect or kindness.

In the Giver you have an entire society who not only follows the tendency of sameness but embraces it as a better way to live. What results is a bland culture that eventually can’t even see colors when they surround them.

Another interesting theme is the precision of language. How language is controlled and freedom of expression is imitated but not really granted. Someone can’t express inside them because they have nothing to express and because the language is constantly being corrected and modified. It made me think of our politically correct culture where precise language is required to speak your opinion on an issue.

I also liked the concept of memory and how we all sometimes wish we could remove a memory and give it to someone else to store, but would this only make us miserable? What do our memories mean collectively to a functioning society. Interesting…

Some online have criticized the logical flaws of the world. For example, 50 children are born each year, 25 girls and boys. This means 17 birth mothers are required each year yet its a looked down upon, sad career.

But I’m okay with those kind of lapses where I would fault Lowery is the amount of talking between the Giver and Jonas dragged on too long. Also, when he finally leaves it seemed to happen too easily and without as much action as I’d expect from this type of book. I think kids might be a little bored with all the therapy sessions and want a little more peril and excitement.

One word of caution the scene of Jonas’ father ‘releasing the twin is pretty disturbing. I’d say this book is best for older children.

So, how does it relate to Matched, Enders Game, Hunger Games, and other dystopian novels (Brave New World, 1984 for adults)? I don’t know since I don’t really love any of them it is hard to say but I would put it further down the list because I think it drags and could use a little more action and excitement.

What are your favorite in this genre?  Do you like The Giver?  I read it years ago and liked it.  Made me think.

Oh, I also met and heard Lowry lecture a few months ago and she said The Giver was not written as a religious allegory.  She said if it touches you in that way it is fine but that was not her intent.  I could really feel her love for the characters and she said that is how she always gets started on a story is an interesting character that she wants to explore.

Have any of you read any of the sequels?  I’m intrigued enough to read more.

So this will be my 45th book this year!  How many have you all read? That is almost double what I read last year.  Happy reading!

One more thing- they are evidently finally making a movie of The Giver, which I’d be curious to see.  I wonder if there is enough action to entertain kids nowdays? There is a lot of talking and going over memories for most kids. It’s not like the Hunger Games which is full of action and suspense.  Hmmm…

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Reading Dahl

I’ve had an interesting experience recently.  I went back and read a childhood favorite- the author Roald Dahl.  He is perhaps most well known for writing Charlie and the Chocolate factory but also James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Witches and Fantastic Mr.  Fox (and many others).  He also has two memoirs entitled Boy and Going Solo.

I have nothing but pleasant memories of reading his books as a little girl.  In fact, they were one of the few fantasy-like books that I enjoyed, preferring usually to read books like Little Women or Little House on the Prairie about more normal girls.    I was definitely sensitive to dark or scary stories and didn’t enjoy being spooked.  I even thought the end of Sleeping Beauty or The Wizard of Oz were a little tense.

That’s why it’s interesting as an adult reading Roald Dahl I have had such a different experience.  I remember lightness, magic, humor and fun.  As an adult they come across as quite mean spirited and dark.  They do all have a happy ending but the joy is so brief it feels unsatisfying to me.

Recently I just finished Matilda and everyone is so hateful to this sweet little girl that she rebels and moves chalk and glasses with her brain.  The story in James and the Giant Peach is the same.  A boy is treated as a slave by his wicked Aunts and beaten to the point that a life with giant bugs is far preferable to life at home.  There are similar themes  in almost all of Dahl’s stories.

The other interesting thing is that all of this maltreatment is done at the hands of women.  The Aunts in James and the Giant Peach, Trunchbill in Matilda, the Witches in Witches, etc.  What strange and ghastly relationships must Dahl have had with the women in his life to create such horribly abusive women?  Come to think of it most of the villains in fairytales are women, either witches or evil queens.  Funny hah?

Perhaps I’m overthinking it but what does it tell our little girls when they are presented time and again with terrible, gristly, mean-spirited, abusive women?  And why are children clearly attracted to these stories?  I can’t be the only one who was blissfully unaware of these women as a child?

Its funny how you notice things completely differently at different ages.  They might as well be different books.  It makes recommending books to children a challenging thing.  Do I think back to the way I felt at 8 or 10? Do I try to read through the mind of a child?  Is that even possible? Maybe if you spend hours with children that age you might but a child gentile like me would only be guessing.

I had the same contrasting experience when I read Dahl’s memoirs.  What was hilarious to me as a child seemed dark and sad as an adult.  I was shocked at how many floggings there were.  It seemed like 80% of the book, with a few humorous incidents in to break up the mood. One of the most vicious canings was performed by a headmaster who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, which no doubt explains Dahl’s skepticism of religion!

It is clear that Dahl raised himself a lot of the time, his father dying while he was a young boy and then being sent off to boarding school. You can certainly see this independent streak in many of his characters, especially Matilda (no doubt the main attraction for me in the stories as a child).  Characters that are too needy or pushy are given quite grisly rewards, as we see in all the other children at the chocolate factory. While the independent, forceful willed children are inevitably the heroes and save the day. I have no doubt this is part of his appeal, that pluck, determination and a good heart will always win out over selfishness, greed and bossy behavior.

From everything he writes his mother was a lovely woman and most of his incidents in school discipline were from men, so I’m not sure where the female anger came into place? Who knows?

Still, it still kind of puzzles me to have such a massively different reading experience.  It honestly wasn’t very pleasant reading his books as an adult.  My only pleasure came in remembering how much pleasure I received years ago.

Have you ever had this experience? What do you make of it? What do you think of my adult analysis of Dahl’s works and how do you recommend books for children as an adult? Its tough!

Ordinary Fantasy

This is a continuation of my last post but I decided to separate them out.

Last night I went to a book signing by Ally Condie author of Matched. This is a dystopian novel about a society that controls everything by statistical analysis.  I enjoyed it and it was neat meeting the author.  She was very personable and friendly, answering questions for an hour.  I liked how she talked about the process of writing.  It was more scattered, jumping around the text, than I have heard from other writers.  I also thought it was interesting how she pulled from little and big things in her life.  Something like watching her mother paint became an element in the story.

Matched- (My Goodreads Review) 3 stars.

I feel kind of bad for Condie because her book feels really redundant of a million other similar books that have become popular in recent years; however, it is a shame because I think it is better written than most of those books.
Matched tells the story of a girl who lives in a Distopian society where everything is controlled via statistics for maximum happiness. While I wish the philosophic debate had been handled more than the gooey romance it was an interesting premise. Is it better to have guaranteed happiness or the risk of chosen happiness?
On one hand I appreciate that Condie gives 2 love interests that are compelling for Cassia but neither of them are developed enough, especially Ky. He is basically a staring, brooding, poetry reading presence but no real depth. Finally in the last 3rd of the book I felt like I got to know him a bit more but for most of the book I was thinking ‘Why is she picking this dope over a life-long friend like Xander’.
Still, for these kind of books it was pretty good. I’d recommend it to a girl in its target audience. Most of the writing is good except for the romantic sections. They come off as very corny.
Kind of like Hunger Games I don’t really feel much of a desire to read the entire series. hmmm?

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had this year to meet authors.  I don’t know if I will ever write a book but I find the process fascinating.  Even writing this blog helps me feel a kinship to other writers and listening to their feedback and advice makes my entries better. If I do write a book I can tell you what type of book it will be- either a memoir or a book that reads like a memoir, that feels like a real story.

Not my favorite genre but I still enjoyed it. The romance is pretty cheesy but a good setting, creative world.

An Ordinary Fantasy

The girls I was with Tennille and Jenny, were talking about their favorite books and many of them were teen literature featuring robots, vampires, werewolves, mutants, super heroes ect.  I mentioned the books I like and it was interesting to hear their reaction.  Some of my favorites they liked but some they found boring.  As we chatted I realized I like books about REAL PEOPLE.  Even if it is fiction the characters have to feel somewhat real in order for me to relate to them.  This is the way I have always been.

My friends and I at the book signing.

I try to be open minded about any genre of books and have books I like from many.  However, of my top 10 favorite books half are memoirs or based on a true story, 1 is poetry, 3 are classics and 1 is a contemporary classic:

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

2. Red China Blues by Jan Wong

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

4.  Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Carey

5. Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes

6. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriett Jacobs

7.  Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Patton

8.  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

9. Delicacy and Strength of Lace by James Wright and Leslie Marmon Silko (A book that nobody else seems to like as much as me but so what!)

10. The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop

(If I added an 11 it would be My Life in France by Julia Child.).

Not a magician, werewolf, vamipire or fairytale in the bunch.  As my friends and I were talking one of them said ‘I read books to get out of my world not to stay in it’.   I found this interesting because I also read books for the same reason.  Puzzling hah?

Why do I respond to books about ‘real’ people and feel tepid about what most would consider a fantasy?  Is it possible I have a somewhat ordinary fantasy?

I have never been a dreamer.  Never had a bucket list or a dream guy or a list of great things I wanted to do.  I have never wanted to be more than I already am. The best people in my life have been the most simple people who really believed in me.

Maybe the reason I relate to regular stories is that a lot of the stuff which is easy for others has been difficult for me.  (I know this is relative as some have many more struggles but hear me out).  For example, losing weight which appears to be easy for others has always been so difficult.  Simply eating is a task filled with stress and peril for me.   Its no wonder that characters who live in a ‘real’ world without these trials feel like a fantasy or an escape. For me,  just being accepted and feeling beautiful or smart was a fantasy, was something I felt I lacked.  It took clawing through it all to be the confident, happy woman I am today.

Also, schooling was a challenge for me.  Between the bullying, strabismus problem and mild dyslexia, things like reading, focusing, getting good grades were always more difficult for me than for my siblings and friends.  I think a fantasy book did not help me to deal with any of these problems where a book about a real person can provide solutions, perspective, and inspiration- even one set centuries ago.

Characters like Jo March, Anne Shirley or Atticus Finch gave me a mold that I could follow.  They were my version of a fantasy of what I would want to be like if all my dreams came true.  Stories in other worlds, imaginative as they might be, did not give me inspiration and solutions I could apply to my everyday life; therefore, I found them less compelling to read.  I couldn’t relate to the characters or their challenges.

My romantic fantasies are also quite ordinary.  As someone who has never been kissed, just a regular, ordinary romance excites me.  No vampires or life saving peril needed.

Neither one is right or wrong its just different tastes. The older I’ve gotten the more open minded I am and the better reader I am, so I try to gain from all literature I read. However, my favorites will always be about ‘real people’.

What about you?  Are you more motivated by ‘real life’ stories or by fantasy (other worlds, magic powers, non-human creatures etc)? Do you find stories about ordinary people to be boring and prefer a new, different world?   What are some of your favorite ‘real people’ books?

On that note I am going to see the Hunger Games tonight…See, I’m expanding and growing!

Teen Lit

So I’m resting this morning. My fibro pain has been so bad lately.  My ribcage is so swollen.  Tender to the touch.  I already made one QVC purchase and figured better get on my blog before I did anything I’d seriously regret!

I’ve been thinking about teen literature lately.  First off, is it just me or did this genre invent itself in the last 10 years? I can’ think of a single series that was popular when I was in high school 94-98.  I can think of things like Baby Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High or even RL Stine which was popular when I was in middle school but nothing in high school.  The only books I remember reading in high school were the one’s assigned to me at school.  I remember liking Arthur Miller plays, Silas Marner, Shakespeare (especially the sonnets) and To Kill a Mockingbird. Those were all books I read during school.

Surely I must have read something during summer break but I can’t think of anything? What are the 90’s teen lit books I’m forgetting? I didn’t really become excited about reading until college and then I veraciously ate up Jane Austen, Harry Potter, and other books.  I read the 4 major Jane Austen books (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Emma) in a 6 week break I had in the winter of 99.

So, that’s my first thought.  Second, I wonder how helpful the teen lit genre is for actual teens.  Here are a few concerns.

1.  Even the best teen lit books, Harry Potter, Lightning Thief, Hunger Games, all portray characters who basically act like adults and are required to make adult decisions.  I like these books so quiet down but don’t you think this is true?  In the Twilight books Bella basically has to decide by the time she is 18 what she wants to do with her life in immortality.

A few weeks ago I saw a sign at the library saying “Teens: Do You Hate Cupid?  Are you down on Love?”.  I seem to be alone in finding this sign amazing.  Should teens really be worried about love, let alone be down on it?  If you think about Twilight and Harry Potter and Hunger Games all of the major female characters basically have to decide on their true loves as teenagers.  Plus, they all have to save their families, and in Harry’s case the whole world from ultimate evil.

Shouldn’t teens just be worried about getting a date to prom or learning to drive?  I have 2 teenage siblings and I think there is a lot of pressure on them to ‘succeed’ and to already know who you are.  I didn’t figure that out until college.  (It also doesn’t help that most teens are played by 30 year olds- ie Glee).

If you look at something from my generation for teens- Clueless.  Obviously the wealth and characters are over the top for comedy-sake but at the core its about making friends, fashion, crushes, learning to drive, dealing with teachers, parents and cliques, and trying to mature.  Even at the end Cher doesn’t fall in love for all time.  She says ” I am only 16, and this is California, not Kentucky.” (I love that movie btw)

2.  All of the books mentioned above feature characters that have a specific magical destiny.  Most of us just lead normal lives.  I think there is a lot of pressure to live some amazing dream life.  Then when you don’t know what you want to do or aren’t supremely talented at something you feel depressed.

Not all of us can be Michael Phelps and have a solo vision in life.  I think in the past the vision of teens was to have a family, live in nice house and be happy.  Now you have to do something impactful or at least be famous.

Teen movies show this.  I recently watched the movie Monte Carlo with teen queen Selena Gomez.  In the movie the Gomez character graduates from high school and goes to visit Paris with her 2 sisters.  The first 25 minutes are actually pretty good with a teen trying to get along with her 2 sisters and adjust post-high school while experiencing a new country.   Then they have to go make her switch identities with a socialite who looks just like her and live as this queen, pop star for the rest of the movie.  You see what I mean?  Just being a normal teen isn’t good enough. She had to be famous, amazing, rich, noticed to be happy.

3.  Most of these teen books are amazingly dark.  I think of Judy Blume, a teen lit of my era, her books trite as they might be involved teens and dealing with friendship, family, school troubles, parental divorce, girls dealing with their periods, and other real teen concerns.  Regardless, there is a lightness to her books that is appealing.

The Hunger Games is especially dark with brutal, violent, children-on-children combat.  Compellingly written as it may be, shouldn’t we a bit concerned that all this darkness is going to lead to dark, brooding teens?  A teen I know just said ‘I am depressed’.  With all this reading I don’t blame her!

I was not a big fan of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli but at least it was light, positive and fun.  My friend and I were talking and agreed even the Goose Girl series by Shannon Hale is pretty dark.

I know you can make the argument that all fairy tales are dark but usually those were stories, not huge books (let alone series), and there was always a happy ending at the end.  Hunger Games didn’t even really give you that.

It’s like I said to my friend Forest Hartman on his review of Monte Carlo

“I don’t understand movies like Monte Carlo. Isn’t it enough of an adventure for a girl to go to Europe without her having to become a star at the same time? It sounds just like the dreaded Lizzie Mcguire movie of years ago that my little sister begged me to take her to.
I think you could make a very good movie about a teen experiencing Paris or Monte Carlo and maturing through art, music, fashion. Would that script be so much harder to write or so much less marketable? I dont think so”

He said:

“I think there’s also a lot of pressure on screenwriters to turn out formulaic material. Something inventive is often seen as risky and many producers are afraid to take risks. It’s simpler to take a star and put them in a rehashing of something that’s already been done because the project is seen as safe. Of course, that’s not always true because most Hollywood films lose money at the box office.”

Isn’t it funny that what is seen as inventive is a story about a normal girl, experiencing normal things?  Ever since Harry Potter everyone has been trying to be the next Harry Potter.  I get that.

How about we make the next big thing- the anti- Harry Potter?  Maybe I will just have to write a book about the kind of teen I was.  I’ve never read a book like that.  Hmmmm

Anyway, I must admit at the end of this that I am not a huge fantasy fan, never have been, so maybe I am biased to begin with but what do you think of my 3 points on teen lit?  I’m sure my sister will have something to say because she is much more well read in the genre than I am.

Finally, can we agree no more books on werewolves or vampires? I was looking at audible teen and it seemed like every book was about one or the other.