Saturday, January 29, 2011

YA for the Feminist Reader

Here's a great resource from Bitch magazine: 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader. It's a really good list and a wonderful starting point for anyone working with or reading Young Adult fiction.

(And, yay! My friend Tanita S. Davis's book is singled out in the rave section. Mare's War is discussed in the company of Harriet the Spy and The Golden Compass, right where it belongs. Go, Tanita!)

And, regarding a classic novel that would not make the 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader list, check out my students' posts on The Catcher in the Rye. They've posted on:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Class is Blogging...

My students in GLS/HUM 295: Theoretical Approaches to Children's and Young Adult Literature at Grinnell College have begun their blog. For the next 15 weeks, there will be 1-2 new posts each weekday and plenty of discussion.

The blog is open to the public, so please feel free to comment.

Kathryn W. has submitted the first post "Profanity in The Catcher in the Rye."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What I Liked in 2010 (Part I)

As mentioned, I didn't read Young Adult fiction in 2010, but I did read many adult novels I enjoyed, some of them with crossover appeal for the teen reader. I'm going to run through them in two posts and in alphabetical order. Here's the first set:

Faithful Place, by Tana French. Faithful Place is French's third novel, and as in In the Woods and The Likeness, French places her detective-protagonist in a fascinating setting where he or she must solve a case involving several complex and difficult personalities. Faithful Place's detective, Frank Mackey, finds his mystery in his own claustrophobic, dysfunctional childhood home when the body of his first girlfriend is found two decades after her disappearance.

Crossover Potential? Some. The Likeness (2008) has the most appeal of French's novels to date for the teen reader. The detective-protagonist in The Likeness, Cassie Maddox, goes undercover to discover who killed a teen she had impersonated before. The main suspects are a group of university students living together in a house, former friends of the murdered girl.

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore. A twenty-year-old university student narrates Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs and her innocent and biased view on the world will be of interest to teen readers. Tassie, the student, is hired as a nanny by Sarah, a middle-aged restaurateur who doesn't yet have her baby. In fact, Sarah's in the process of adopting a child, and Tassie travels with Sarah all over the upper Midwest to meet prospective birth mothers. As Tassie spends more time with Sarah--while Sarah adopts and then raises a biracial child--Tassie's views become more nuanced and complex.

Crossover Potential? Reasonably High, especially for teens who have spent some time babysitting in another's home.

Mary Karr's Lit was my favorite memoir of 2010. In Lit, Karr writes about becoming a poet, a wife, a mother, and an alcoholic. Karr discusses the fits and starts of her recovery, one that is ultimately successful. Lit is a beautifully written and sometimes difficult read (Karr can be tough on herself), but one well worth your time, if you're older than twenty five or so.

Low Crossover Potential for the non-addicted teen.

And, book #4 for this post...Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson.

Simonson's debut novel centers on widower Major Ernest Pettigrew, an elderly Englishman, who is finding life a bit difficult in his later years. His son is materialistic and annoying and the Major also is fighting with his sister-in-law over inherited items. In the midst of all the familial stress, Pettigrew becomes friends and falls in love with Jasmina Ali, a local shop owner and a widow herself.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand takes on generational divide, racism, and class in today's England and manages to do so in a quickly-paced, humorous love story. If you're in need of a lift and a laugh, then Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a great choice.

Crossover Potential? Sadly, I think Major Pettigrew's Last Stand will not appeal to most teen readers, because, let's face it, teens don't really like reading about grandparental romance.

So in conclusion...hand Tana French's The Likeness to a teen and see if you can hook him or her on the best new mystery novelist of the 2000s. Also, recommend A Gate at the Stairs to the perceptive teen babysitter.

Up tomorrow: Our Kind of Traitor, Solar, So Much for That, Super Sad True Love Story, and A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

YA course

Well...I still have not posted my Crossover Books from 2010 entry. But, I will, on Tuesday.

In the meantime, here is the syllabus for the first 2/3rds of the Young Adult Literature course I will be teaching this semester. All comments are welcome, here or there.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blogging in Higher Ed?

This semester I am fortunate enough to be teaching a course on Young Adult literature. This is a variable content course and we will be reading YA realistic fiction, starting with an eight-week survey of American YA and then spending six weeks on translated literature in order to understand how language, nation, culture, and history influence the presentation of "problem" to the teen reader.

Over the course of 14 weeks, the students will be reading 17 novels and 10 theoretical articles. That's a lot of varied material to cover in a semester and I'm not sure the material is suited to the six-eight short academic essay format I use in most of my literature courses. I am not fond of journals (too much "impression," too little analysis) or reader response assignments. And blackboard discussion lists have never worked well for me. I have decided to do a class blog for the first time in addition to three-four academic essays. There are approximately twenty five students in the course who will be responsible for 3 posts each and at least 10 comments over 15 weeks. This should make for an interesting blog as well as a good assignment!

I have been thinking about how to make sure the blog is not an "add-on" component to the course, but rather an integral part of class discussion. And, in doing some research I ran across Denise Harrison's "Can Blogging Make a Difference?" on the Campus Technology blog. Harrison's article clearly identifies several ways blogs can enhance the classroom experience. Here are two points in Harrison's article that resonated with me:

1. A blog allows for "the exposure of their posts to meaningful audiences, including other students, and a potential global audience, encouraged careful reflection and articulation of the subject." (p. 4) This is especially true when we consider the close-knit world of the kidlitosphere.

2. You have to bring the blog into the classroom, and the classroom onto the blog. (p. 5)

Have any of you used a blog in the classroom? What suggestions do you have for a first-timer?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What I Did Not Love in 2010

With one exception, I did not read a Young Adult novel in 2010. I didn't read a Middle Grade novel. I suppose I was on sabbatical from novels for young readers.

I did read many novels written for adults, a few of which will crossover for the teen reader quite well. I will write about these tomorrow in a "novels I loved in 2010" post.

Those of you who know me know that I rarely post a negative review or comment. If I don't like a book, I just don't write about it. At least not extensively. It's an energy thing, I guess.

However...the book I did not like in 2010 was THE book--Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. And I've thought for months about writing a review of Freedom and have decided, as usual, not to do so. Instead, I will provide the two main reasons I disliked Freedom.

1. If you happen to be a woman, Freedom is one disheartening read. As in War and Peace, which Franzen refers to directly in Freedom, the novel's main protagonists are two men and one woman. They're all fairly unlikable, a feature of the novel Laura Miller refers to and defends at Salon**, but the male characters, serious Walter (Andrei) and unfocused Richard (Pierre), have redeeming qualities the reader either admires or finds charming. (Oh, that rogue!)

The female center to this contemporary love triangle is boring, self-centered, untalented Patty. She's no Natasha, that's for sure. There's no life to her, but for narcissistic bitterness, and it's hard to see why Walter, her husband, and Richard, her occasional lover, would ever find her intriguing enough to pursue, let alone argue over.

I think I might have enjoyed Freedom if the secondary characters did not follow this same pattern. I suppose there is one "positive" female character, Walter and Patty's daughter, but she's such a stereotype ("good girl," recent graduate from a prestigious college, "selfless" job in publishing) that she serves mostly as a plot device.

2. The sex scenes. I'm not sure I've seen mention of the sex scenes in Freedom in the reviews I've read, but I just can't let this novel go without mentioning them. The sex between Walter and Patty and Patty and Richard is forgettable or, sadly, very like rape. And, the phone sex shared by Walter and Patty's ne'er-do-well son, Joey, and his girlfriend Connie is ridiculous.

Crossover Potential? None. Teens do not want to read about the pathetically middle aged.
Other Books on My "Did-not-Love" List:

I've already mentioned that I was underwhelmed by Mockingjay. This was probably due to high expectations, however.

And, while I really wanted to enjoy Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty, I just didn't. But, as I will read Franzen's next novel (I liked The Corrections), I will read Martin's as well.
**I absolutely agree with Laura Miller that there is no reason at all a novel's characters must be likable. I just couldn't get past how universally unlikable Franzen's female protagonists were in Freedom.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Back to the Blog

Hello, Everyone!

I'm finally returning to this blog (Big A little a will be an archive now).

I have a question regarding the Kidlit blog world. Has anyone taken over Weekend Reviews posts? If not, then I will resume those this weekend.

Also, I'll be using as my contact e-mail now and am rebuilding my reader and bloglist. This will give me a chance to catch up on the state of the kidslitosphere.

I can't wait to talk to you all! First up will be review posts of what I liked and didn't like in adult fiction from 2010 (and which novels would crossover well for the teen audience). Then it's off to the Cybils shortlists in Young Adult, Fantasy/Science Fiction, and Middle Grade. I'll also be blogging (on another blog) with students in my Young Adult literature class this spring semester. I'll link it up as soon as the semester gets going.