Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl is a metafictive coming-of-age film based on a young adult novel by the same name. The book is an example of sick-lit.

Greg […] is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia.

Deadline Hollywood

 

Okay, I admit it. I thought, “This is very much like The Fault In Our Stars.”

But remember, the sick-lit genre popular in this Third Golden Age Of Children’s Literature did not actually start with John Green’s YA novel — it started way back in the late 1990s with The Lovely Bones.

The YA novel by Jesse Andrews Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was published in 2012 and released as a film three years later in 2015. Jesse Andrews was the main scriptwriter for that. Here I’ll be talking about the film because I haven’t read the book.

Apart from a breakdown of story structure, in this post I’d like to touch on:

  • “sick-lit” — yes, it’s a derisive term but what else can I call it?
  • the female maturity principle
  • mothers in coming-of-age stories
  • tear-jerkiness and how to achieve it
  • the metafictive elements of this self-aware coming-of-age tale

TAGLINE OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

“A little friendship never killed anyone.”

GENRE BLEND OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

drama, comedy >> coming-of-age tearjerker

DESIGNING PRINCIPLE OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

I’m having trouble with this. Could it really be as simple as:

Sometimes it takes proximal death to teach us the value of life?

STORYWORLD OF ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

The author himself attended Schenley High School, Oakland, Pittsburgh, not that long ago (as of 2017 he’s only 34). The story is set there, and suburban surrounds.

The majority of the film adaptation was actually taped at Schenley High School.  When the cameras showed us the corridors from above I noticed that the tops of the lockers were dusty and the place had a general run-down look to it compared to slightly more glossy depictions of high schools in other teen dramas coming out of America. As it turns out, this may not have been because the set designers were actively aiming for a run-down state school — the real Schenley High School closed its doors back in 2008 after 99 years. This was originally an expensive school to build — one of the first to cost a million dollars, which was a lot back then. In 2013 the historic but closed school was sold to some developers who plan to turn it into luxury apartments. Anyhow, the filmmakers must have scooted in there before that happened. Continue reading “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)”

If I Stay by Gayle Forman Storytelling Tips

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman is a young adult novel published 2009.

if I stay by gayle foreman

 

WELCOME TO THE THIRD GOLDEN AGE

This book is an excellent example of ‘The Third Golden Age Of Children’s Literature’, as described by Amanda Craig:

The emphasis in the First Golden Age [of children’s literature] was very much on being healthy in mind and body – if a child became sick, he or she usually got well as part of their story. Today’s reader has no such encouragement. There is an alarming trend in what has been termed “sick-lit” which seems to wallow in the idea of a child self-harming, being ill, dying, or even committing suicide. I trace this back to a novel which was not written for children at all, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, but it has spread into best-selling books like Ways to Live Forever, Before I Say Goodbye and many more. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Amanda Craig

While I’m a little uncomfortable with the pejorative connotations of the term ‘sick-lit’, it works for critical purposes.

YA SICK-LIT & FEMINISM

There are parallels between Mia Hall and Bella Swan. Twilight is part of this movement — a girl who must make a decision between life and (un)death in an environment that’s largely blueish and grey (though due to rain rather than snow).

Adam is always amazed at how even in middle of summer, even after the sweatiest of encounters, my hands stay cold.

If I Stay

That line reminds me of Bella’s deathly white skin — strangely white even though she hails from Phoenix.

“Aren’t people from Arizona meant to be, like, really tanned?”

“Yeah. I guess that’s why they kicked me out.”

Twilight

Forman’s work, I would argue, is a little more feminist than that of Stephenie Meyer, though part of me feels Forman is going out of her way to distinguish herself from those silly girls when Mia narrates:

I never expected to fall in love. I was never the kind of girl who had crushes on rock stars or fantasies about marrying Brad Pitt. I sort of vaguely knew that one day I’d probably have boyfriends…and get married. I wasn’t totally immune to the charms of the opposite sex, but I wasn’t one of those romantic, swoony girls who had pink fluffy daydreams about falling in love.

#NotLikeOtherGirls Feminism

That could pretty much be the self-description of any teenage girl. Like Bella Swan, Mia Hall is The Everygirl, apart from having one main standout quality: Her prodigious ability with the cello, though even then, most of her ‘talent’ comes from sheer hard work, passion, and a full decade of practice. Bella Swan has no standout talent apart from smelling good to hot vampire boys. So Mia is more like Rory Gilmore in this respect.

This movie adaptation of If I Stay was released in 2014 and stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Mia.

if_i_stay_poster

Rotten Tomatoes says of the film, “Although Chloë Grace Moretz gives it her all and the story adds an intriguing supernatural twist to its melodramatic YA framework, If I Stay is ultimately more manipulative than moving.”

Movie review websites aren’t kind to films and TV series made for and by women. I’ve also noticed that the word ‘manipulative’ is a gendered concept, far more likely to be applied to both women and media aimed at women. (I’m sure Joanna Russ would have something to say about this.) I would call this story a ‘tearjerker’ — it is what it is, and many readers enjoy reading stories like these for the cathartic power of sobbing, I think. Which is just as valid a reason to read/watch a movie as the chance to be ‘thrilled’ or ‘scared’ (emotions more robustly embraced by men).

Although the film follows the book quite closely, I’m writing here about the book.

GENRE BLEND OF “IF I STAY” BY GAYLE FOREMAN

At the beginning of the book, 17-year-old Mia already has a boyfriend of six months and is therefore not entirely new to relationships. In a straight romance the partners meet in the first few pages, something keeps them apart for the length of a book and then they get together at the end. At one point Mia narrates that her romance with Adam is a lot more complicated than that which means that, despite the romantic subplot, this isn’t a straight-up romance. More properly this is a love story.

Nicholas Sparks might even call it a love tragedy, if he’d written it.

live-for-love

The out-of-body half-dead narration makes it supernatural, though some may read it as religious. This is not a religious story so much as a spiritual one, borrowing the state of limbo from earlier Catholic teachings, in much the same way as the horror genre also loves Catholic symbolism.

Mia states at one stage that if there’s a God he hasn’t shown up. Readers are therefore free to imbue the story with their own philosophies (though atheist nihilists aren’t well catered for in popular American YA).

Mia’s character arc of finding out which parts of herself are essentially ‘her’ make it a coming-of-age drama.

STORYWORLD OF “IF I STAY”

if-i-stay-cello-bike

Mia’s family is the sort of cool, rocker family who tend to get sent up in Portlandia (although this family lives elsewhere in Oregon). The father doesn’t even get a driver’s licence until the mother makes him get one, so I imagine he’s a bit like the guy in this Portlandia send-up of hipster cyclists.

if-i-stay-joshua-leonard-chloe-moretz
Mia’s parents are with it in the way Lorelai Gilmore is with it — overtly and ostentatiously cool. The father drinks strong coffee, a habit Mia has emulated. The mother is a terrible cook who loves to eat junk food despite remaining rock chick slim. This is the kind of cool that appeals to a 13 and 14 year old audience. Mia is an evolution on Rory Gilmore.

The nice thing about setting a story in Oregon is that a writer can make full symbolic use of the distinctly four seasons.  If I Stay opens in the season of winter. This is significant to the plot (the car presumably skids on black ice or something) but is also highly metaphorical — this is the darkest hour of Mia’s life so far. When she looks back on her earlier recent past we’ll be taken with her back to happier times in warmer seasons. “It was warmer then”, we are told, when she went on that first date to see Yo Yo Ma with Adam.

As with many American stories, there is the whole Glamorization of New York thing going on. New York is the only place where things can happen. The not-so-subtle assumption here is that even if you make it back to your hometown, you haven’t really made it til you’ve been to New York.

STORY STRUCTURE

There are two threads to this story and this is what makes it an interesting case study. I will call it an ‘alternating plot’. For more on plot shapes in children’s literature see here.

  1. The present — on a snow day the family take a drive and everyone but Mia is killed. Mia narrates as an out-of-body ghost following her sick body around as she is helicoptered to the hospital, then suffers through a succession of visitors.
  2. Flashbacks — how she started dating Adam, how her parents met, how she always feels like the odd one out, family history

Each of these two threads has its own fully-developed story arc. The Storyworld, Mia’s Weakness/Need and the New Equilibrium are common to both of them.

WEAKNESS/NEED

Mia has this nagging feeling occasionally that she was swapped in the hospital — not helped by her father’s jokes — exacerbated by the fact that Mia is into classical music while her family are punk rockers from wayback. This difference is expressed in her physical appearance: Mia is dark haired and dark-eyed while her parents and younger brother are blonde.

Mia is trying to work out who she is, which is probably the need of every single YA protagonist. Here, more specifically, she wonders if she should even continue playing the cello which she has been obsessed with for a decade.

Mia needs to ‘find her tribe’, basically, which is ironically more difficult for a nerdy type kid who is born into a ‘cool’ family, and for an introverted girl who happens to find a boyfriend with friends so different from herself.

 

1. THE PRESENT THREAD

if-i-stay-ambulance
The car crash is the inciting incident and happens in the first chapter, after a happy, warm household has been introduced.

DESIRE

The author sets up a mystery for this thread — Mia knows that her parents have been killed, but where is Teddy? Mia desperately wants to know this information but because she is a ghost she has no ability to ask.

She desperately wants to see her boyfriend Adam. Although she is visited by a succession of relatives, none of these people manage to persuade her to live rather than die.

OPPONENT

The staff at the hospital are set up as opponents, from the grey-haired nurse to the doctor who roughly opens her eyelids to the guards. Willow is the only ‘goodie’ here.

The problem Mia has is one teenagers will relate to; although Mia’s relationship with Adam is as significant as that of an old married couple, Adam is not allowed in to see her because he’s not family.

I’m not sure if Adam would really be banned from seeing Mia in a real life equivalent situation*. Also, since this book was published there have been a few modifications made to hospital visitation rights, perhaps spearheaded by the gay community, though I’m not sure if anything has changed in regards to teenagers and their significant others.

*However, this book is not for fans of strict literary mimesis. It bothers me that the father’s brain on the road looks like a ‘grey cauliflower’. The flesh of fresh brains is pink, not grey. It’s not Seinfeld who wears the puffy jacket — it’s George.

PLAN

With Mia unable to formulate a plan in her non-body, it’s up to the best friends to somehow make it past the curmudgeonly hospital staff to see Mia. Mia watches as they stage an elaborate decoy plan.

BATTLE

There is a lot of running around the hospital, evading guards and what not, and eventually the teenagers make it to Mia’s bedside.

if-i-stay-running-hospital

It’s been said that every movie (adaptation) could be called ‘Trapped’. This is because all popular stories seem to have a sequence in which the main character sees no way out. Mia’s trapped scene happens after she realises Teddy is dead.

I race through the hospital like a trapped wild animal. Teddy? I call. Where are you? Come back to me!

But he won’t. I know it’s fruitless. I give up and drag myself back to my ICU. I want to break the double doors. I want to smash the nurses’ station. I want it all to go away. I want to go away. I don’t want to be here.

This is an outward scene of the turmoil going on inside Mia’s head. (The author very sensibly wrote the book with some big scenes, making it good to go as a movie adaptation.)

I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up.

 

SELF-REVELATION

I realise now that dying is easy. Living is hard.

With Adam finally by her side in the hospital, Mia chooses life over death, even though her future will be vastly more uncertain than it was before.

The reveal is also that Adam has actually broken up with Mia right before the accident because she couldn’t promise to spend New Year’s with him.

 

2. THE FLASHBACKS THREAD

DESIRE

Mia wants to get into Julliard after other people sort of suggest to her that it might be a possibility. This isn’t a girl with a burning desire, but a girl who wants to please other people. Although the desire to get into Julliard is more burning than initially revealed, Mia is beginning to establish a nice adult life in Oregon and has a boyfriend based in Oregon. Mia’s desires are conflicting. The parents — cool as they are — serve as a vision of her future she does not want. She wants a life built around music, not the other way around.

Some writers would refer to the Julliard thing as the ‘outer desire’.

Mia’s ‘inner desire’ is to not be lonely. In both threads, Mia is consistently alone. She is alone in her family, alone here on stage during her audition, and if she gets in, she’ll be totally alone in New York, with the rest of her family hailing from Minnesota, the author makes sure to tell us.

if-i-stay-audition

OPPONENT

A lot of YA books feature parents as caring opponent figures but this book shuns that trope altogether with the cool, understanding parents.

Appropriately named Adam is Mia’s first boyfriend, and with this guy Mia must learn how to negotiate and communicate in a relationship. There are plenty of opportunities for disagreements along the way — there’s the cool rock chick he plays with (ultimately revealed to be lesbian in the film adaptation and therefore no threat at all), there’s a Pride and Prejudice sort of beginning in which Adam mistakes Mia’s attitude towards his gigs for lack of interest in him.

We also have an ally and sometime opponent in Mia’s best friend, the one she had a fisticuffs with back when they were eleven. Now they’ll fight to the death for each other. This history means the bffs have an honest, open communication line going between them — in contrast to the shutdown between Mia and Adam — and Kim also fills the role of challenging Mia when she considers giving up the cello. You can’t give up the cello, Kim advises, because she can’t possibly imagine Mia without a cello ‘between her legs’. In other words, Kim points out what the reader has already realised — that Mia’s road to happiness must, at all costs, include the cello.

PLAN

Mia will go through the Julliard application process and avoid making any big decisions until — and only if — she gets in.

She will also spend the year working out who she is, and this at one point involves a makeover scene. In a Betty/Veronica scene readers will instantly recognise, Mia realises she is not the fun blonde chick.

Mia gets into Julliard, as must happen to make a successful story. The reader knows this will happen but it’s not a problem, because the real question we want to know is: Will she choose her boyfriend over New York? (And also, did her little brother die?)

if-i-stay-blonde-wig
In the book the mother is blonde. When Mia puts on the wig, she realises she looks like her mother for the first time.

BATTLE

The big battle scene of this thread is the argument with Adam, who feels Mia has lied to him, mainly by omission, not letting him in on her thoughts as she goes through the process of Julliard acceptance.

There’s a bit of a feminist message to young readers in this battle: Hopefully readers will notice the double standard that’s going on here — Adam expects Mia to do a lot of waiting around for him, busy with his performing and band practice, but he doesn’t want to do any waiting for his girlfriend, while she’s away pursuing her own musical dream. That said, the breaking up battle takes place off the page. Instead we have a very-much ameliorated boyfriend situation, with a guy who realises the double standard and concedes rather than — more realistically, in my opinion — a girl who works out the double standard for herself and points it out to him.

SELF REVELATION

The message for both Mia and to young readers: Even if he’s got a lop-sided smile, live your own life before settling down. Otherwise you’ll end up like Mia’s mother — happy in her own way, but suppressing her own creative dreams for the sake of family, stuck in safe suburbia, (symbolically dying first because you’re a bit of a martyr).

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

This book has a bittersweet ending characteristic of the Third Golden Age. Although she’s alive, Mia has lost her entire family and will need a lot of physical therapy. (Fortunately there is a sequel. We get to see how Mia does in her recovery.)

This book is, at its heart, a celebration of life over death. (All themes sound cheesey when you put them in a single sentence.) But what will the Fourth Golden Age of Children’s Literature bring us? An evolution on this type of story would surely be the glorification of death over life? Or perhaps there will be a backlash all the way back to full, Enid Blyton-esque health.

Finally, what is all this life and death stuff all about? What’s the main message here? Surely, surely, it’s about more than the opportunity to have a good wallow for a while, contemplating our own mortality.


Ultimately, there may be a strong feminist message in If I Stay, and that’s where this story is nothing like the Twilight series. For Mia, ‘life’ = ‘her own life’. On the flip side we have ‘settling down in Oregon with a band boyfriend’ (who will probably end up ditching his musical dreams by the time he hits his 30s), which for her is a kind of ‘death’.

 

The Male Gaze In Children’s Literature

Meg Elison has written a McSweeneys post about The Gaze which strikes a chord.

IF WOMEN WROTE MEN THE WAY MEN WRITE WOMEN.

cat gaze

 

At The Guardian, Lindesay Irvine (incidentally, a man) responded to this spoof gender reversal with:

Anyone who’s ever had a brush with cultural studies will be familiar with Laura Mulvey’s influential theory of the male gaze in film and fine art and photography. But I’d never quite thought the male gaze could function equally well in fiction.

Yes, of course the male gaze functions equally well in fiction.

I’m sorry to say that this gaze is just as prevalent in children’s fiction.

After chuckling at Meg Elison’s piece I made a note to blog an example from kidlit. I wasn’t actively looking for it because I have plenty of other ideas for blog posts, but it took less than a week to stumble upon an example.

Here we encounter the male gaze by the time we’re halfway down the middle of the very first page of an upper middle grade/young adult novel.

One

“Haven’t you loaded that chainsaw on yet?” Lisbeth asked.

Craig Dawson paused with one hand on the helicopter cabin door. He breathed deeply.

“I’ve been checking to make sure its tank’s empty,” he said. “You never carry anything with petrol in it, if you’re in a chopper.”

“Is that right?” Lisbeth’s voice was as cool as always. “Thanks for the lecture.”

This time, Craig breathed deeply twice. He slide the chainsaw into the main locker inside the Mongoose’s cabin, snapped the safety clips over it, then pulled the storage net tight, holding it in place.

“OK,” he announced as he straightened up. “That’s the lot.”

Lisbeth had finished stacking the supermarket bags of milk, fruit and vegetables in the Mongoose’s small locker. Now she stood with perfectly clean hands on the hips of perfectly fitted jeans, watching Craig.

Cold Comfort by David Hill, 1996, published with the support of Creative New Zealand

It’s hard to imagine the character of Craig standing in perfectly fitted jeans (unless we’re reading specifically gay fiction marketed quite differently), and if you’re wondering about the narration of Lisbeth watching Craig, well, that’s it. I didn’t cut anything pertinent off by ending the quote there. The story goes back to Craig.

Importantly, the commentary on the teenage girl’s hips comes from an unseen third person narrator. That narrator is unambiguously male. The author chooses to pull in more closely to Craig’s head than to Lisbeth and there are writerly reasons for that; the reader’s sympathies are supposed to lie with Craig, not with Lisbeth. In short, this tendency to sexualise the female body rather than the male body is partly to do with how many more books are written about boys and men. (In kidlit, across the board, it’s about 3 male characters to every 1 female.)

David Hill’s work has  been widely read (and taught) in New Zealand schools (I’ve had to teach his work myself, in a girls’ high school) and, like a couple of other big name educational authors from my home country (William Taylor is another), this is typical of the sort of narration that gets purchased by schools as class sets. It’s written from a blokey point of view with sympathies directed at the put-upon male character whose opponent is the annoying but sexually alluring female character. These characterisations are thought to engage those hard-to-reach reluctant boy readers.

(Fortunately in New Zealand reading lists have become a bit more diverse since the 1990s. This has happened in part because teachers have started to acknowledge that it’s not just boys who are failing to take up with fiction these days.)

However, when it comes to the male gaze, there’s more to it.  Continue reading “The Male Gaze In Children’s Literature”

What’s behind the wide appeal of horrible, brooding, YA boyfriends?

young adult boyfriend

THE RECIPE FOR A YOUNG ADULT DARK PARANORMAL ROMANCE BOYFRIEND

  1. Handsome
  2. In a white kind of way
  3. Muscled but not too muscled — not like he works at it
  4. Well groomed and fairly nubile — not much body hair
  5. Remarkable eyes and gaze
  6. A bit older than the female protagonist
  7. A bit taller
  8. Maybe a bit richer (though sometimes he’s an underdog, financially speaking). All of this ‘a bit more’ refers to ‘hypergamy’ — the longheld view that husbands should be a little more more of everything (except beautiful) than their wives.
  9. Not like other typical guys — interested in literature rather than sport
  10. Though he’s not the uncoordinated, klutzy type either
  11. Loves reading, though he may be embarrassed to be seen doing something so sensitive and girly
  12. Perhaps writes poetry in his spare time
  13. May be on the periphery of a group of guy friends but is basically a loner
  14. Inexplicably falls instantly in love with the beautiful (though sometimes just girl-next-door looking) female protagonist
  15. There will be some reason why he cannot be with her right away (he’s a teacher/vampire/she’s already taken…)
  16. But he must be with her nonetheless, though their love is based on very little really
  17. This might lead to some stalking
  18. Or otherwise taboo/unethical boundary crossing
  19. And will definitely lead to much brooding
  20. Because he is not fully in control of his own sexual impulses
  21. Cannot stand seeing her with another boy
  22. Even if they’re just friends
  23. There will probably be a lot of mansplaining, in which he explains things about love and life to the female, and even if she balks occasionally, the reader/viewer will actually see he has a point
  24. He is experienced in love. It helps his attractiveness that he’s had previous girlfriends; as long as this girl is his last, that’s fine.

See more at: BroodingYAHero twitter account.

Ezra French Food
Pretty Little Liars, impressed by money and autonomy, because at this age it’s a pretty low bar

THE APPEAL OF THE YOUNG ADULT BOYFRIEND

Unless you are — or have been — a heterosexual adolescent girl, the appeal is a little hard to understand. Even if you ask an adolescent girl, she might not be able to tell you. If she is woke she’ll be keen to point out that he is only a fantasy, and fantasies are just that. She knows he is not real.

Still, it’s an interesting exercise to consider where sexual fantasies come from. Especially when they’re commonly held throughout a culture. Even fantasies do not exist in a cultural bubble:

  1. The Fantasy Of Love At First Sight — this article makes a distinction between romantic intensity and romantic profundity
  2. The Erotics Of Abstinence — lengthy months of yearning, which is at least half of the fun. Stephenie Meyer’s books are well-known for this aspect, and are thought to stem from her Mormon background, which preaches abstinence before marriage.
  3. The Expectation Of Hypergamy — in which the man is always a little bit more of something — a bit taller/richer/older/streetwise.
  4. The Fantasy Of Being Looked After Unconditionally And Forever — a return to the safety of the early years and I’m sure we could get all psychoanalytic right here. The girl only has to exist — he doesn’t ask anything of her.
  5. The Fantasy of Being Delivered From Obscurity by a Dazzling, Powerful Man — like one of those classic novels in which the ordinary but pretty common girl is chosen by the lord of the castle or something. Because until very recently, that has been a woman’s only hope at social mobility. (In Titanic you see the same thing but the economics are in reverse.)
  6. The Florence Nightingale effect — in which a caregiver develops romantic and/or sexual feelings for his/her patient, even if very little communication or contact takes place outside of basic care. A depressed/melancholic/damaged man seems appealing because in order to be attracted to someone as a partner you have to feel you can improve their life in some way. Our ghosts make us vulnerable. Vulnerability is attractive. Of Edward Cullen it has been said that “His anguish makes him volatile enough to keep things interesting but dependent enough that he will never be tempted to leave.”
  7. Stockholm Syndrome — feelings of trust or affection felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a captor
  8. The Wish To Have A ‘Real Man’ — in a culture in which men and women are increasingly similar in life expectations
  9. The Wish To Have A Fantastic Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Pressure You To Have Sex — related to the erotics of abstinence above.  A boyfriend who can’t/won’t have sex with you is a safe person to have when you’re both terrified and curious.
  10. The Desire To Be Dominated — not always in real life, but quite often in fantasy, as was discovered by E.L. James. There are various opinions on this. Some argue that the desire to be dominated comes from emancipation. When women take on more responsibility in their real lives, they like to fantasise about having no power in their sex lives. Which leads me to the question: What are the fantasy lives of women living in strongly patriarchal societies? Do those women also have domination fantasies, when they are not allowed to drive, or leave the house, or decide who they’re married off to? That would be an interesting comparison.

 

Ezra Aria holding hands
First year tortured English teacher inappropriately holds hands with senior in Pretty Little Liars
Jessie taking the piss out of Luke
Jess from Gilmore Girls
Jess possessive
Of Rory’s boyfriends, Jess is perhaps the most possessive and creepy.
Jessie outbidding Dean
Jess has just made a concerted attempt to ‘out-do’ Dean and supplant him as boyfriend, catching the prize of smalltown pretty girl. Though Rory’s onto him, that doesn’t stop her from falling for it.

Sleep my bella

Edward plays piano
Even better if he can play a musical instrument. Or dance. It’s a better indicator than big feet.

The Hunger Games

 

It’s safe to say this post contains spoilers about The Hunger Games.

volunteering-as-tribute

Plenty has been said about The Hunger Games and I doubt I can add another single thing, but I have been collecting links on this for ages as they raced through my feed, refusing to read them until I’d seen the movie and read the book.

BOOK VERSUS FILM

Here is one overview of the differences from Lit Reactor.

Love the books, liked the movie, don’t think the film would have nearly as much value for those who hadn’t read the books. – The Beheld

It seems to make a difference whether you watch the film first or read the book first. I fit into neither category because I watched the film as I was partway through the book. I’d already seen trailers and screenshots of the film, which would have informed my vision of District 12 and the world of the story, but I can empathise with those who say that the film did not live up to the expectations of the world they’d built inside their heads. It’s true: a film set, no matter how lavish, can never live up to a good imagination.

If I noticed one area in which the film fell down, it was in the dialogue. Dialogue could have so easily been taken straight out of the book, but it hadn’t been. (Noticeable mainly because my viewing and reading of this story happened simultaneously — probably not noticeable otherwise unless you’re a megafan.)

For instance, there’s a scene in the film where Haymitch Abernathy says to Katniss, ‘Nice dress, sweetheart.’ He then turns to Effie Trinkett, who is about to get into an elevator with them (I think), and Haymitch adds, nastily, ‘Not yours.’

I remember this scene because the rest of the audience in the theatre laughed, and I don’t find that kind of humour funny. I mean the kind of humour in which one woman is complimented on her looks while at the same time another woman is dished out a backhanded compliment. You’ve probably seen this meme: When Did This Become Hotter Than This? I hate that meme, because in its attempt to embrace a healthier body image for women, all it does is try and shift our views about ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ body types. Women are still being judged primarily on their looks. This is why we should remain a little skeptical when evaluating The Hunger Games (the movie, especially) as some sort of feminist triumph. Is it really? (See below.)

While Effie Trinket is not a character to empathise with, she does exhibit a lot of the virtues which are expected of women in her position: enthusiasm, an outward appearance of politeness and a level of personal grooming which makes her look almost scary (AKA ‘Emotional Labor’). On the scale of disagreeable characters in The Hunger Games cast, Effie Trinket is one of the more harmless.

In general, movie adaptations of books are more open to cliche, whether it be at a story level or at a dialogue level. Perhaps cliches don’t stand out as much when they come in movie form, whereas on a page they never fail to clock us in the head.

One example, true of many book to film adaptations, is that the romantic element is played up in The Hunger Games movie. That’s an example of a storyline cliche.

As for dialogue, when Rue is fatally speared in the movie, I remember Katniss crouching over her. She says something like, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ I remember thinking, although I’d not reached that part in the novel, ‘No, she’s really not. You probably shouldn’t say that.’

Then I got to that same scene in the book:

One look at the wound and I know it’s far beyond my capacity to heal… There’s no point in comforting words, in telling her she’ll be all right. She’s no fool.

I much prefer the honesty of the book scene. Why did they change it for the movie when there was really no need to? I wonder if the dialogue in the film was influenced by the track which plays at Rue’s death, the one by Taylor Swift in which the lyrics go, ‘Just close your eyes /  The sun is going down / You’ll be alright / No one can hurt you now’.

Anna Sarkeesian (Feminist Frequency) has intelligent things to say about the differences between the book and the film in this video, and I find particularly interesting the reaction of the audience inside the theatre where she saw this movie. That, I suppose, is the main benefit of seeing a film with an audience. At home, you don’t get to see other people’s reactions. I also find it disturbing what people find (and don’t) find funny.

THE GENDER GAMES

It’s interesting to read about how the Hunger Games was sparked in the mind of Suzanne Collins, in an article entitled Suzanne Collins: the queen of teen fiction for tomboys by The Guardian.

I find myself irked more and more by the term ‘tomboy’. I always have, even as a kid when I was one.

First, a tomboy is a girl, so why a portmanteau including not only the word ‘boy’, but ‘Tom’ – a boy’s name? Nothing in the word ‘tomboy’ suggests we’re actually describing a girl.

Second, the fact that the concept even exists makes salient the fact that a ‘real’ girl has to be a certain way, not that girls come in all flavours and have a wide variety of interests, clothing styles and sporting aptitude. I can see why the word tomboy may have been useful back in 1900, but I’m disappointed to see it still used un-ironically in the headlines of a major newspaper.

Third, as I have noted before, it is assumed (I think wrongly) that boys will not be interested in a story about a girl unless she is an FFT (see below), so at the very least she must be a girl in a boy’s body. I don’t think this is the case for Katniss, and I don’t even like such black and white gender distinctions because I think they’re unhelpful, but it’s the assumption that continues to bother me. The proliferation (domination?) of ‘tomboys’ as a representation of ‘strong female character’ is almost a form of femme phobia.

It has been said that the gender of Katniss is pretty irrelevant. She’s an every-hero. I find it interesting, though, that she almost seems to have outrightly reject everything that could be associated with femininity. Not only looking pretty — that’s the most obvious one, and I have to admit, a welcome change — but even cooking. Nor does caring come naturally to her. She is making soup for Peeta in the woods. While master cheffing is a masculine pursuit, the day-to-day drudgery of household food preparation is feminine, and I can’t really blame Katniss for wanting to avoid it. Hence:

I’m the first to admit I’m not much of a cook. But since soup mainly involves tossing everything in a pot and waiting, it’s one of my better dishes.

But when a character is the opposite of all things feminine, I start to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to throw in a few surprises, to show that Katniss has not rejected her gender altogether, but instead embraced the best parts and thrown away others as she sees fit. Where are the heroines who have managed that?

See also: The Gender Games, and another video from Feminist Frequency in which Katniss is evaluated as a strong female character. Conclusion: while the first book stands strong, the next two books in the trilogy see Katniss fail to continue in her growth as a person, and even regress.

Here’s another analysis of Katniss as a strong woman. The proliferation of such musings (this included) tells me something. We’ve been missing this character in her non-existence!

Dr Jennifer Shewmaker is impressed that in the movie Katniss isn’t sexualised at all.

WOMEN AS ACTION-HERO SUPERSTARS

Sociological Images always offers intelligent commentary, and in this article, argues that: “The Hunger Games should serve as a wake-up call to Hollywood that women action-hero movies can be successful if the protagonist is portrayed as a complex subject — instead of a hyper-sexualized fighting fuck toy (FFT)”

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. I may be holding back with a few criticisms of this film for the simple fact that the producers actually took a risk and cast a genuinely strong female character as a lead in a big budget movie. Of course, the cynic in me says it wasn’t all that much of a risk, given the phenomenon which had been created by the author of the trilogy herself.

The Mary Sue references The Hunger Games in an article entitled ‘The Long Arm of the Lore: Female Heroes In Pop Culture‘, and with Katniss Everdeen as evidence, concludes that ‘kick-ass heroines are cool again’. Were they ever really uncool, or is it simply the case that audiences have had no choice?

On this point, Skepchick quite rightly questions the so-called ‘market-drivenness’ of the ghettoisation of female action leads. It comes from Hollywood producers.

Lots of people are saying that the opening weekend of The Hunger Games were good days for women and filmWill The Hunger Games Be The First Real Female Franchise?

MASCULINITY

No discussion of gender would be complete without a thought-provoking article on masculinity in The Hunger Games. (From Bitch Media)

THE BOOK ISN’T CHALLENGING OR LITERARY ENOUGH TO BE STUDIED WIDELY AS A HIGH SCHOOL TEXT

It is sometimes said that Modern Children Lack The Attention To Read Dickens, for example.

Literacy Journal’s stand is that The Hunger Games doesn’t deserve a place in the 6-12 ELA canon. I’m guessing that this is a view not unique to literacy advisors and advocates.

I can’t pretend to have made up my mind about the perceived ‘dumbing down’ of literature. That young adults today are reading less challenging works is certain. When I say ‘less challenging’, I mean the sentences are more simple at a syntactic level, the works themselves are shorter, and the plots are action dominated. I would also guess that a narrower variety of words is employed overall, but I can’t be sure about this.

What I am sure of, though, is that when it comes to the formal teaching of literature in schools, the single most important thing is that the students enjoy it, if not from the outset, then certainly by the end. I’m also sure that the literary merit of a book lies only partly in the book itself, and in large part with the way in which it is taught.

(Did you see this week that the Horrible Histories author has requested that his books not be taught in school? He surmises that if kids are made to read something, they won’t like it anymore. I’m not so sure about that. This request shows an enduring mistrust of teachers and the wonderful work so many teachers do in the classroom with regards to turning kids on to reading. As a side note, I have no idea what school inspectors have got to do with inspiring kids to read. Inspectors exist to make sure teachers and administrators are doing their jobs.)

To that end, The Hunger Games offers lots that I could immediately see as exciting and engaging in the classroom. With enthusiastic teaching, this book could lead to discussions about historical and topical issues such as war, the impact of reality TV, the distinction between public and private self (with Facebook as an example), a parable of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the list goes on.

It’s also a cautionary tale about Big Government. And undeniably a Christian allegory about the importance of finding Jesus. Or maybe a call for campaign-finance reform?

– from The LA Times

That’s not to say that I don’t have some sympathy for advocates of the slow reading movement, and the idea that some of the most life-changing books are worth the struggle.

Down here in Australia and New Zealand, many high school students have been reading John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The World Began as part of their English curriculum. I have taught this book myself, and I’d argue that Marsden and Collins are on a par as far as dystopian YA action fiction is concerned. Whether these novels are not challenging enough is hard to say. Certainly, for the top students, more challenging novels might allow them to write more nuanced essays and therefore get higher marks. But it would take an experienced teacher of gifted and talented students to say this for sure.

WHY IS KATNISS’ SKIN NOT DARKER?

A Whitewashed Hunger Games from Ms Blog.

I suspect the producers believed they were already taking a big risk by making a movie with a reluctant, non-sexualised action hero, and that they were absolved any further from doing anything else for equality’s sake. That’s the cynic in me.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there is to be a Katniss Everdeen Barbie. (I would prefer the term ‘action hero’, but there you have it. For more on that issue, see here.) As pointed out by Jezebel, the doll doesn’t really have that ‘Seam’ darkness to her. She’s white all right.

For more YA whitewashed book covers, see The Yalsa Hub

This sense that movies should feel real started in the fifties and has been slowly evolving ever since. “We used to go to the movies for fantasy, to get take us away from everyday life,” says Turner Classic Movie host Robert Osborne, who also wrote 80 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards. “The women all looked like Katharine Hepburn or Carole Lombard and the men all looked like Cary Grant or Robert Taylor.” Now, we want people to really look like the taxi driver or the waitress at the corner deli, he says. (This also means that we want our ballerinas to look anorexic and our downtrodden victims in eighteenth-century France to be near death.)

Why Extra-Skinny (or Fat) Actresses Win Oscars

THE WOLVES, THE WOLVES

The Wolf Muttations Could Have Looked Much More Horrifying – some concept art by Ian Joyner at io9. This is probably true, but I found the wolf muttations in the movie perfectly horrifying enough, thanks. I’m just glad the directors didn’t cut to the part where the wolves ate the blond boy. Instead, we saw the look on Katniss and Peeta’s face and heard the chomping licky sounds. That’s good enough for me.

THE HUNGER GAMES = TWILIGHT?

Fortunately not. While there are some similarities, The Hunger Games is better written at a line level (ie. I didn’t want to snap all the adverbs in half and throw them across the room), the main character is not moony.

Still, there is that old love triangle thing. Or is there? Feministe argues that the relationship model in The Hunger Games is not your cliched love triangle at all.

TERRIBLE COSTUMES?

I’m sure there are a number of costume designers who are miffed they didn’t get contracted for the costume design of The Hunger Games, because it would’ve been a great gig. A number of commentators have noted that the costume design was not good. But as a non-costume designer I enjoyed the costumes of this film. I particularly appreciated the pink eyeshadow of Effie Trinket, which made her look as if she had some sort of eye-disease, and the blue ponytail of Caesar Flickerman. The whole atmosphere of this movie reminded me very much of the second episode of Black Mirror, which is probably no good to you at all, since I’m sure more people would’ve seen The Hunger Games than the second episode of Black Mirror. But I highly recommend that series if you enjoyed the atmosphere of The Hunger Games. To be honest, that mood wasn’t what I’d been expecting.

TOO UPSETTING?

E.L. James (author of 50 Shades Of Grey) has said that killing children for sport is just a little too upsetting for her. This sentiment was echoed by an avid reader I know – a teenage girl who lives on my street. When I asked her if she’d read The Hunger Games she said, “No, and I don’t intend to”. She, too, had heard enough about the story to know that it would upset her too much.

While I didn’t find the story upsetting, I do find the general theme upsetting. We’ve been sending our young people off to war for generations. Many countries around the world still do. There are young boys in African countries today who have been taken from their parents and trained as nothing but fighters their entire lives. So I would argue that we should be finding The Hunger Games upsetting. Watching this movie, we can at least acknowledge our own privilege.

How did America turn into Panem? Like others, I imagine war broke out as a consequence of over-populationa and global warming. I find this quite upsetting too. The Hunger Games may be an imagining of a post-climate change world.

And all of the above are probably why The Hunger Games finds itself on lists of banned books. Sheesh.

For More On The Hunger Games:

1. The editorial process revealed by an intern (for those interested in writing).

2. A great map of Panem.

3. Collected mentions of The Hunger Games over at Slate, subtitled ‘An Ending A Tea Partier Would Love’, which is fortunately ambiguous enough that I can’t work it out yet, not having read the next two in the trilogy.

4. Here is a description of each song in the soundtrack to the movie. I thought the standout track was the end anthem, which is unfortunate since this is the part where everyone in the theatre walks out.

5. 7 Things You Might Not Have Known About The Hunger Games from Buzzfeed

6. Ideas For A Hunger Games Party from The Daily Meal. [Not much at all, I should think, kind of like our 40 Hour Famine parties we threw as teenagers.]

7. A Hunger Games Wiki for true fans.

8. An excellent summary of themes over at Connect The Pop, a SLJ blog. Here’s part one.

9. Like me, it turns out Jezebel has been curating interesting links on The Hunger Games this week. Check it out if you’re still intrigued. Especially if you’re interested in statistics.

10. Hunger Games influences baby names, but Katniss isn’t so popular.

11. How The Hunger Games Should Have Ended

12. 15 Women Who Could Direct Catching Fire Instead Of The Actual Candidates, from The Marysue

13. Female Authors Are Prominent on the ALA Banned Books List. (The Hunger Games is one of them.)

14. The Hunger Games Gets An Honest Trailer, by some people who didn’t much like the film, via the Mary Sue

15. A Film Review from Ladybusiness

16. The Sunday Salon: The Hunger Games, Merchandise, and Androcentrism from The Literary Omnivore

17. Another bunch of links, this time collected by SLJ

18. If Hunger Games Were 10 Times Shorter And 100 Percent Honest from Cracked

19. Philip Seymour Hoffman explains why bloody Hunger Games Is Good For Kids from WSJ

20. An Exercise In Editing or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed from R.L. Brody

21. What’s Wrong With The Hunger Games Is What Nobody Noticed from The Last Psychiatrist

22. A Radical Female Hero From Dystopia from NYT

23. A spot-on sartorial satire: Fashion’s extremity of appearance, values and language makes it a perfect subject of satire as seen in ‘The Hunger Games’ from Financial Times Style

24. Things The Hunger Games Can Teach Us About The War On Women  from Good

25. The Ultimate Hunger Games Victory Feast

26. THERE’S A THE HUNGER GAMES-THEMED SUMMER CAMP IN FLORIDA, which sounds awesome — gotta admit — until I remember the plot of the actual story.

27. Katniss is “A Wreck”: A Conversation with Suzanne Collins and Francis Lawrence: TIME talks to the writer-creator of ‘The Hunger Games’ and the director of ‘Catching Fire’ — the first in an exclusive five-part series

28. Catching Fire in the New Year: The Hunger Games and Pop Culture as Teaching Tools from CtrlAltTeach

Out now — illustrated short story — Diary of a Goth Girl

Diary of a Goth Girl--Cover
Click through to Goth Girl on the iBooks store

iBooks Store Description

Allegra Joy is possibly the most inappropriately named Goth living in the fictional town of Goolooroo, outback Australia. Still, this doesn’t dampen her spirit as she embarks upon a quest to find an androgynous Goth boyfriend with lank hair and despondent eyes. Believe it or not, she finds someone who fits the bill, though he may turn out to be no more Goth than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Death In Children’s Literature

A lot of people will probably tell you their first brush with death was watching Bambi. I can’t say the same because I never saw the animated Disney film. I thought I knew the story for the longest time, because my grandmother bought me a Little Golden Book called Bambi and Friends Of The Forest. I still have it, because Nana’s wobbly handwriting is in the front. Bambi and Friends is like an extended scene like that one out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, where Snow White is frolicking with the animals in the forest. In this Little Golden Book there is no death.

The first literary death to really affect me came much later at age 11 when I read Anne of Green Gables. It was interesting to watch Anne With An E (the Netflix series) and see that Matthew does not die in this more modern revisioning. What was behind that decision? By keeping Matthew alive, Walley-Beckett refused to give him tragic hero status. Instead, she turns him into a more flawed human being, whose lack of communication to Marilla about their shared financial position posits him as a patriarchal (though kind) man of his time.

Back to Bambi…

Bambi death stare

DEATH IN BAMBI

I was first introduced to death by my older sister who took me to see the movie Bambi when I was a little girl. I’d barely dried my tears over the death of Bambi’s mother, when I was crying again while reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book By the Shores of Silver Lake. Not only did Laura’s sister Mary go blind, but their loyal bull dog, Jack, died. In high school I reached for the tissue again when Scarlet O’Hara’s elderly father dies in Gone with the Wind.

Even then, I wondered why did writers let people and beloved animals die? I didn’t think it was too much to ask those with the power of make believe to keep everyone alive.

Susanne Brent, WoW

Bambi could’ve been worse, ya’ll. Or maybe it would have been better..?

Walt Disney wanted not just one death, but two. […] Walt wanted to add the image of a man’s hand in the fire sequence, showing that the flames came at the hands of man, and that same fire destroyed the cause of all the chaos, too.

Believe It Or Not, Bambi Was Originally Even Sadder, from Refinery29

A BRIEF HISTORY OF DEATH IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

In literature produced for children in earlier centuries, death was nearly omnipresent—either as a reward for spiritual righteousness and moral rectitude or as a punishment for wicked, ungodly behaviour.

In the earliest collection of Grimm fairytales (which admittedly, weren’t really for children), you see the link between life and death really clearly in endings such as:

  • And if they haven’t died, they’re still alive.
  • They were once again together and lived happily ever after until the end of their days.
  • They lived happily together until they died.

For medieval people, death wasn’t really considered tragic. I guess medieval people had a lot more confidence in their after life beliefs. They were DEAD sure they weren’t going to die. Only their corporeal bodies died. This is why The Little Match girl has a HAPPY ending. The girl meets up with her grandmother and they live together in Heaven! Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her seminal book about death said that, there are two kinds of people who are most at peace on their death beds. The super religious and the super atheist. But most of us fall in the murky middle, and find death pretty terrifying.

Fast forward to the 20th century and Western civilisation no longer feels quite as optimistic about life after death. Though death was a common theme in 19th century fiction for children, it was almost banished during the first half of this century.

Since then it has begun to reappear; the breakthrough book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. In contemporary children’s literature, not only animals but people die, notably in the sort of books that get awards and are recommended by librarians and psychologists for children who have lost a relative. But even today the characters who die tend to be of a generation or two older; the main character and his or her friends tend to survive.

Though there are some interesting exceptions, even the most subversive of contemporary children’s books usually follow these conventions. They portray an ideal world of perfectible beings, free of the necessity for survival and reproduction: not only a pastoral but a paradisal universe — for without sex and death, humans may become as angels. The romantic child, trailing clouds of glory, is not as far off as we might think.

— Alison Lurie, The Subversive Power Of Children’s Literature

Roberta Seelinger Trites has a theory about death and sex as its inverse:

I have always suspected that authority figures in our culture protect children from knowledge of sex because of our cultural desire to protect children from a knowledge of death. Philippe Aries refers to this as the “interdict laid upon death” in the twentieth century. The romantic image of the innocent child still dominating our culture perpetuates the illusion that children flourish best if they are free from the corrupting knowledge of carnality. Carnality: sex and death, death and sex. They are cultural and biological concepts that are linked inviolably.

— Roberta Seelinger Trites, Disturbing The Universe

But what’s a story without carnality? Boring, that’s what. Children’s authors avoid sex and death, but they do include lots of eating as a stand-in.

DEATH IN YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE

Everything said above applies to children’s literature but not young adult literature. The rules are quite different here.

Seelinger Trites makes the point that ‘mortality’ is different from ‘death’. In junior fiction, an understanding of mortality — as part of the cycle of life — is part of a symbolic separating from parents. YA characters learn that death is about more than just separating from parents. Teenage readers are now understanding that death might be completely and utterly final, and that’s terrifying.

Seelinger Trites posits death as the defining difference between YA fiction and every other type of fiction (junior and adult) — the sine qua non, the defining feature. YA novels are all about the death, but not from a variety of different angles. Not like adult literature. YA novels deal with a very specific aspect of death:

In adolescent literature, death is often depicted in terms of maturation when the protagonist accepts the permanence of mortality, when she/he accepts herself as Being-towards-death.

— Roberta Seelinger Trites, Disturbing The Universe

That concept Being-towards-death is key.

  • The main character not only acknowledges their separateness as an individual from the dead character
  • And is well aware of the finality of it, but
  • The death influences the main character’s maturation.
  • They recognise their own mortality, not just as a concept but for real.

Here’s what the Self-revelation arc tends to look like in these stories:

  1. Realization that if this person I’m close to has died, then I too will be dead someday. An emotional storm around this.
  2. A bit of calm to follow
  3. The main character ends up better off than they were before, because now they really understand the power of death, they can make the most out of life. Alongside that, they realise their own tragic vulnerability and experience a heightened awareness of what power they do and do not hold in their lives.

It seems that death has far more power over the adolescent imagination than any human institution possibly could.

— Roberta Seelinger Trites, Disturbing The Universe

Seelinger Trites goes on to describe 3 recurring patterns in YA literature:

  1. DEATH OCCURS ONSTAGE — Whereas in MG novels death tends to happen off stage, reported back by characters, YA novels make the death far more immediate. We’re often right there for the death.
  2. DEATH IS UNTIMELY, VIOLENT AND UNNECESSARY — Whereas MG novels tend to kill off the elderly and parental figures, YA novels kill the young.
  3. TRAGIC LOSS OF INNOCENCE — When the YA character first understands the finality of death, at first it seems really tragic. But before they came to their acceptance of death they were ready for a fall. They overcome tragic vulnerability, avert catastrophe and transform the tragedy of their own mortality into some level of triumph. In this way, the YA novel isn’t so different from The Little Match girl, who came to terms with death (okay, died) but everything was okay actually.

There’s this really popular narrative trope used to explore death in YA literature — the main character is a photographer.

DESCRIBING GRIEF

It can be challenging for writers to describe grief in a way that feels both real and honest. One solution is to write about the ways in which you evade it.

Why We Find It So Hard To Describe Grief

One way of writing about death is to write symbolically. Books don’t have to feature death to be about death. Stories about solitude and darkness are also about death. For children, the darkness of night is like a kind of death. In Lemony Snicket’s picture book The Dark, a boys’ descent into the darkness of the basement is metaphorically the Battle scene in which a character comes close to death.

DEATH AND TRANSHUMANISM

First, what is transhumanism?

Transhumanism is the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.

While the transhumanist movement and goal for singularity can make sense of our increasingly science-fiction world with its rapidly growing technologies, I see problems with articulating the wrongness of death; in a recent Slate article, Joelle Renstrom writes that,

Representing death as wrong gives it greater power, especially when people do die. If death is wrong, are people who die bad, or are they victims of an obsolete paradigm? Either way, making peace with death would be particularly challenging. Kids could grow up not just afraid of death, but also afraid of failing to fix it. Stolyarov makes death a powerful nemesis that could rule their lives—just as it’s ruled his.

The notion of immortality becomes a fact rather than a concept; to present that to a young mind, a nascent consciousness, does not bode well for their development.

Transhumanism In Kidlit

Peter Pan And The Reversibility Of Death

Peter and Wendy cover death

[T]he Neverland is unmistakably the land of the dead, with all its implications. In Mrs. Darling’s vague childhood memories of Peter, “when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they shouldn’t be frightened”. Peter’s famous statement “To die will be an awfully big adventure,” is based on the idea of reversibility of death. This is not a Christian, but a pagan (archaic) notion. To die in the Neverland is an everyday matter, and the author deals with it quite casually: “Let us now kill a pirate, to show Hook’s method”. This is only possible because it is not real death, but make-believe. Wendy is shot down by the not-so-bright Tootles and lies dead for a while, mourned by the boys, emerging from the little house in a perfect “returning-goddess” ritual. Even Tinker Bell, having taken poison, can easily be resurrected, because her life and death are merely a question of belief. If all the inhabitants of the Neverland are already dead, then of course they are not afraid to die.

[…]

Writers who choose to let their young protagonists die or commit suicide allow them to stay forever young.

– From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature by Maria Nikolajeva

Continue reading “Death In Children’s Literature”

What Makes A Book For Young Adults?

Many of following notes come from Lecture 2 of David Beagley’s course at La Trobe University: Fiction For Young Adults.

Little Women, Anne of Green Gables –- we now look at these books as historical but Little Women was written about current affairs, about finding a husband while a father was away at war. Pride and Prejudice was also about finding boys. Puberty Blues, a contemporary novel set in Newcastle, is again about a group of girls finding boys. These were the first YA novels.

They weren’t called that, though.

Literary historians frequently cite one of three dates as turning points for YA literature:

1942 — Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
1951 — The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
1967 — The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Reading for this week:

A major report was done in 2000 on what and why and how teenagers in Australia (esp in Victoria) read. Insider Dog website http://www.insideadog.com.au/

(The name of the website comes from a quote by Groucho Marx – Outside of a dog a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.)

An award has also come out, publicly voted (The Inky Award)

Maurice Saxby’s Books In The Life Of A Child. A chapter toward the end is about YA reading. He is one of the first to define this area and express it clearly.

Nicholas Tucker looks more at the younger adolescent (11-14), that point of transition into teenagehood, defining elements typically found in the books themselves rather than focusing on the youth themselves: typical genres, formats.

Voskuhl (sp?), from Access Journal, the professional journal of the school library association of Australia. There are a lot of books about encouraging reluctant readers. One of the things about the selection of texts for school reading (especially later school years like VCE) is that the lit is usually adult lit – Shakespeare, Orwell, Aristotle. This was raising the question, why aren’t we looking at books targeted at teens when it’s a teen audience?

 

How Old Is A ‘Young Adult’?

Young people are all so different. When a profit can be made from a young person (e.g. a ticket on public transport or to a movie or to entry to social media such as Facebook) the definition of ‘youth’ changes depending on the seller’s profit.

What is the problem with children fighting wars? They do pretty effectively in Africa but we see that as wrong. We happily send 18 year olds off to war, but not 16 year olds (though they are allowed to join the military).

If we use the term ‘teenager’ we define it by number, between the ages of 13 and 19.

The ‘young adult’ is defined by the end of it, implying that they are almost adult.

This leads to the ‘deficit model’. See Nan Barr – adolescents are defined by what they are not as much as what they are.

See also: The rage of age ranges from Shannon Hale

 

From: The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Writing For Young Adults

In this book there is a list of what a YA book must have.

  • A YA protagonist (so obvious it barely needs saying, though not all protagonists aged as a YA is necessarily for YA audience e.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This book is a stand-out though, to this rule.)
  • Subject matter to interest of YA, or within their experience
  • The protagonist is in conflict with the key protagonist and their normal wider world. (Conflict is so important that it is required to be specified. Not falling in love, not anything else – conflict)
  • Reading level of a young adult, including using a young adult’s vocabulary (This is problematic. You’ve got reading level and then you’ve got vocabulary. There is an immense range of reading capacity around the numbers that we assign to age. And an adult writer can easily sound ridiculously artificial by trying to write in a YA voice. By the time a book is published, teen-speak will have changed, and it is also highly regional.)

 

Looking for place within family, and also looking for love

Midnight Zoo by Sonja Hartnett stars protagonists who are younger than the readership, but has complex philosophical musings about war and morality and the interplay of different groups, some of those groups being animals, others people, not all present in the story. So it’s quite a complex book in terms of subject matter.

Looking For Alibrandi features a mid-late teen concerned about personal identity and relationships with her family, and looking for boys.

Twilight – a mid-late teen concerned about personal identity in relationships with boys and the boy’s family.

Pride and Prejudice – mid-late teens, same concerns.

Deadly, Unna? – same again.

Divine Wind, Hunger Games, Jinx… a pattern emerges.

 

Relationships and Identity

Relationships and identity are closely related. These could be specifically the relationships of authority, and conflict with authority. Where is the change over point that gives the youth the ability to control their own identity? If the youth feels ready for control but society sets the point elsewhere we have automatic conflict and opposition. This is most likely to occur with those authorities that are close by: parents and school.

Then there are the peers – those of an equivalent status – and plots about conflict with them.

Some stories are about sex and sexual orientation (identity).

These stories encourage readers to ask questions. Which rules do I continue to obey? Do I continue with the religion I was brought up with?

This is the age people start thinking about politics, about what is right and wrong.

It all comes down to self-conflict, choosing who and what I am.

A lot of the stories are about social groups – are you in or are you out? Social status to do with wealth/ethnicity or in Twilight are you human or are you a vampire? Pride and Prejudice is about belonging to a higher status of family, in manners and in wealth. Here, it’s not so much about what the protagonists choose but what other people choose for them. Racial groups form the in-or-out decision in Deadly, Unna?  In the Hunger Games, do you accept or do you reject the social and political environment that you’ve been born into?

 

Another commonality: Where are the parents?

If parents and caregivers are not actually causing the problems then they are largely ineffectual in trying to solve them. They may be there, or may not be.

There has to be a practical and alternative offered to social issues/lack of identity/war and all of those problems. The alternative may be either negative or positive. Dystopia: A world which is not the ideal, in fact it is something you try desperately to avoid e.g. Hunger Games, The Divine Wind (WW2), Deadly, Unna? (intense racial prejudice and divide), Midnight Zoo is a declared war. It may simply be that the alternative society is just different. In Pride and Prejudice it’s the very wealthy people the Bennetts aspire to be but can’t.

(Maurice Saxby gives a lot of examples of books, though he was writing about this in 1997 so his examples are not particularly up-to-date.)

See: Orphans in Children’s Literature

Turmoil

YA books often examine the point of turmoil in a person’s life, and the changeover so often happens to young adults, which is why we have YA fiction. Life at this point has the potential to go somewhere. The story might point to a particular direction, and what sort of choices might be made. The protagonists in YA make their own choices. The reader doesn’t have to identify with the situation of the protagonist, but does have to identify with the life stage, of making choices.

A YA novel offers possibilities rather than concrete answers and widens the vision of life.

 

The Why Is The Important Thing

Why do these characters choose? Not necessarily what they choose, but why.

 

Profound Identification With The Reader

This is a requisite for this category of fiction. Adult readers don’t necessarily identify strongly with a protagonist, but the youth reader is really living the story, far more than other types of fiction. Even in children’s literature, the parents are more present.

 

What defines YA compared to Junior Fiction?

According to Beagley, there is more capacity to decide, more desire to operate, more experience, putting things in context, analytical capacity. In short, more agency in YA literature. The main character’s desire is to make decisions without waiting for the parent or teachers to choose for them.

Roberta Seelinger Trites drills down further, and argues that the distinction between YA and junior fiction relates to power.

[The] intertextual question … “Do I dare disturb the universe?” — is representative of an ethos that informs many adolescent novels. The chief characteristic that distinguishes adolescent literature form children’s literature is the issue of how social power is deployed during the course of the narrative. In books that younger children read…much of the action focuses on one child who learns to feel more secure in the confines of her or his immediate environment, usually represented by family and home. Children’s literature often affirms the child’s sense of Self and her or his personal power.

But in the adolescent novel, protagonists must learn about the social forces that have made them what they are. They learn to negotiate the levels of power that exist in the myriad social institutions within which they must function, including family; school; the church; government; social constructions of sexuality, gender, race, class; and cultural mores surrounding death.

— Robert Seelinger Trites in her book Disturbing The Universe: Power and repression in adolescent literature

 

Surely That’s Not A Children’s Book!

The following notes are from Episode One of Kid You Not Podcast, which is entitled: Surely That’s Not A Children’s Book!

The podcast opens with excerpt from two different books: One is published for adults, the other for young adults, yet the excerpt for young adults is more disturbing in content. There is no discernible difference between the styles.

The following points are subsequently made:

  •  Adults like to think of children as innocent beings even if those children are plunged into a world of violence and danger.
  • It’s almost impossible to say one book is a children’s book and the other is for adults.
  • Many adults are not aware of how graphic many books for children and YA are. Perhaps they remember rosy stories full of moral values. In fact, every theme under the sun is open season: Incest, drugs, kidnapping etc.
  • What we’re witnessing at the moment in kidlit and children’s publishing in general is ambivalence about who books are for. Publishers are aiming for a crossover market.
  • Like Prof Beagley, the presenters of this podcast trace this phenomenon back to the publication of Harry Potter.
  • Harry Potter has become a modern classic. This ‘modern classic’ feel is reflected in the latest covers, which have a creamy look as if to emulate old paper. The drawing style is a modernisation of the sort of drawings you’d see in old fairytale editions.
  • Why so many crossover novels, apart from the obvious economic ones? Publishers realise that these stories are just good stories. It’s only when social convention steps in that adults might feel as though they shouldn’t be reading a book that’s been published for children.
  • What does it say about adults that they have such an ambiguous relationship with children’s literature? It’s not real, it’s all cute and full of bunnies… it’s generally disregarded. That said, children’s literature is one of the most profitable parts of publishing today. J.K. Rowling can be partly thanked for that. After Rowling became very rich, the money itself gave children’s literature more respect.
  • Perhaps adults suffer from an interesting complex — adulescence — they see themselves on a path of discovery even though they might be 30 or 40 or 50. (Was ‘adulescence‘ coined by French advertising companies?) People are growing up later and later. The workplace is not the same, people’s lives are longer, a job isn’t for life, there’s no pressure to decide what you want to do forever at age 21. Really we are living an extended adolescence right up into our mid thirties these days.
  • Now adults are freer to see themselves as being on a path rather than having arrived in adulthood. Yet it’s still not acceptable to be reading these books, which is strange, given the climate just described. ‘Transformative experiences’ apply not just to young adults (teenagers).
  • With the rise of eReaders, readers are free to read whatever they want without worrying about who is looking at the age category of the chosen book. The secret reading world of the Kindle.
  • There’s a difference between the intention of the author, the intention of the publisher and the readers who these books actually appeal to.
  • In literary criticism the Intentional Fallacy describes the problem of trying to judge the merit of a work according to the perceived intention of its author. The challenge for critics is to consider the author as ‘dead’ when regarding the work. On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to judge a book without considering who the book is for: No one would buy it, retailers don’t know who they’re supposed to be selling it to. There’s a huge demand in our culture for everything to be carefully categorised, especially when it comes to age-groups in children’s books.
  • In the same way, you have to see yourself as a man or a woman, or in other categories.
  • There’s a tension between the publisher’s decision to categorise — we end up with ridiculous age categorisations such as 8-10, 10-12 and so on — and between writers who often just write stories. People read what appeals to them. This creates complicated adults who feel the need to hide that they are reading children’s books.
  • Adults have an interesting tendency to push away everything that is childish. But if ‘children’s books’ are really for children, surely they wouldn’t speak to adults. So are they really ‘children’s books’?
  • Children don’t do the same with adults’ books. Children never say of a book for adults: This appeals to me — therefore it must be a children’s book. Yet adults systematically claim ‘children’s books’ as their own, by saying that if a book speaks to them, then it’s not actually a children’s book at all.
  • There is a lot of literary criticism arguing that there’s no such thing as children’s literature.
  • There are few books for adults that focus on transformative experiences and growing-up, so if an adult skips kidlit, that adult is missing out on a huge chunk of what literature has to offer.
  • Children’s books often follow a mythical structure — essentially things that the adult mind needs, and always will need. The publishing industry might be seen as helping adults to shake free of expectations, judging books on their literary merit.
  • Will Self wrote an interesting article about Harry Potter and how childhood lasts much longer.
  • This podcast aims to persuade listeners that children’s literature contains things that adult literature does not. Also, children’s literature contains things that adults might not expect would be found in children’s literature: They are not all innocent, saccharine, Beatrix Potter-esque.
  • Fortunately, publishers are already aware of how awesome many children’s books are.

From the podcast available on iTunes U, from a talk delivered by Hornby at Newcastle University.

Nick Hornby refers to a list put out by an author who was asked which books all English children should have read before leaving high school. Hornby admits that he hasn’t read some of the books on this list, and wonders if he is missing anything. There isn’t time for everything. Hornby is a voracious reader, and hopes he has instilled a love of reading in his own children but wonders if ‘forced reading’ would only lead to a hatred of the classics.

Does literature teach us to be better people, and great literature to be the best? If this is the case the best read among us should be the most humane, but in fact some of the best read people of his acquaintance are as susceptible to petty jealousies, greed and other human vices as the next (less well-read) person.

Wendy Cope was one of two writers who refused to take part in the survey (it was asked of many well-known writers) and she said she’d draw no distinction between people who read and people who don’t read. (Hornby later admits that he was the other writer who refused to provide a list.) This is a very interesting position for a writer to take. Hornby likens knowing about literature to knowing about wine — useful, but hardly essential. Like wine, some books are better than others, though Hornby does not consider himself a relativist. That said, if you spent your time digesting cheap table wine it would do you just as much harm.

Nick Hornby On Why All Fiction Should Be Young Adult Fiction

Reading for pleasure is the most important indicator of the future success of a child. Nearly half of prisoners in America’s prisons are illiterate. We need to get our children and a worringly large chunk of the rest of the population reading.

The best description of reading is in The Child That Books Built. Hornby quotes from that.

He then quotes from The Intellectuals and the Masses.

There is no reason why children should not read classic books that typically turn up on reading lists, but because they’re difficult they’re put into a box and labeled so.

Hornby spent two years teaching English at a very good comprehensive high school in a university town. He has only recently begun to realise how influential that two years has been on his writing career. What he wanted for his students was a novel that was complex but simple to read. He found himself drawn to Of Mice and Men. Later he had the ambition to write books like that, along with Roddy Doyle — simple, funny, unquestionably literary in that the intent isn’t simply to amuse and entertain. Doyle spent years as an English teacher, and his first profession must have profoundly affected his second.

Hornby has written several books for young adults, such as Slam. About A Boy was intended for older readers but the success of the film and the age of the protagonist has meant that it has become popular among a younger age group.

At a YA conference Hornby met David Almond, who Hornby had not heard of until that point. He then read Skellig when he got home, and realised it is quite brilliant. He has since read a lot of YA fiction, which has been like being a YA all over again. He was reading Vonnegut as a YA himself, but now in his middle age he was reading YA. These books made him think hard about what we want and need from literature.

In Skellig, a boy takes a book to a friend and the friend says, ‘Yeah, looks good. But what’s the red sticker for?’ The red sticker was for ‘competent readers’. Meena complained that what if other readers wanted to read it. In this passage Skellig touches on the idea of designating certain books for certain readers. By making a reference to Blake he is also asking us to look at his book in a way we may not have thought of doing. Skellig is about life, death, the value of education, and a lot of other things besides. He includes some of the more mundane truths (Chinese takeaways, for example) without losing the intensity of his vision.

Another work like Skellig is Feed, a sci fi novel clearly inspired by anxieties about the Internet. The only thing that distinguishes this work of art from other work of art is the age of its teenage protagonists. In Feed the characters have some kind of device implanted in their brains. They pick up anything thrown at them. As a consequence, everybody has a problem with language. They’re losing whatever eloquence they once had.

More recently Anderson has written two more remarkable novels for young adults in a series called Octavian Nothing, popular among US high school students. Set in Boston in the American Revolution, long and ambitious, this novel may well be the Joyce or the Henry James for the book’s young fans.

Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat is a bleak and funny and experimental book for young adults, almost the opposite of Skellig, as if Bob Dylan had turned his hand to chick-lit. Bleak, funny, experimental. Everyday contemporary problems are turned into something surreal.

The world has changed in the last generation. There used to be nothing much to do — Hornby wanted to watch TV but there was nothing much on. Now there are plenty of over diversions competing for attention, and reading time is less. Traditionally, reading has been done in places where there’s no alternative BUT to read: sun-loungers, dentist’s waiting rooms, airports, but those days are now gone. From now on, there will always be an alternative. While we may lament this, there’s nothing we can do about it. We may have to accept that we are dealing with a new kind of human — someone who is unwilling to deal with complexity.

Children do still read: Harry Potter, Twilight (just as adults are reading Dan Brown in their millions). One thing all of these books have in common is that they are routinely rubbished by columnists in newspapers. There’s an idea that bad prose is automatically rewarded by huge sales. But Hornby is certain that these people are not interested in ‘bad writing’ per se and we should assume that these authors are doing something right rather than something wrong. These novels still have the potential to speak to us.

There’s a key to the success of the YA writers mentioned this evening: The authors know that they have to fight for teenagers’ attention. There’s a fine balance between writing what you want to write and writing what the readers really want to read, and all writers can learn from YA writers.

A couple of years ago Hornby had two separate conversations with friends who happened to be reading the same book, a big historical book. Both friends were busy people who confessed they were only reading a paragraph or two per night. Hornby pointed out that it would take two years to finish it at that rate. Many literate, university educated people seem to feel a grim sense of duty towards reading, feeling that it’s something we ought to do rather than what we want to do. Until we genuinely have fun reading it will be hard to persuade our children to read. Hornby urges the audience to put a book down that they are not enjoying, which is why he is reluctant to join a book club. He doesn’t want to feel that reading is a duty. As a writer, people are often apologising to him, ‘Sorry, but I haven’t read your book yet. Sorry, but I haven’t got time to read.’ Hornby feels that as long as you can read, there’s no need to be sorry.

Hornby explains The Alex Award:

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year’s publishing. The Alex Awards were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official ALA award in 2002.

YALSA

A list of the winners on Goodreads. This is an invaluable resource for teachers, but it’s actually an invaluable resource for all of us. The Alex Award pretty much guarantees that a book won’t be boring. Dickens would have won an Alex Award if it had existed during his lifetime. Hornby doesn’t want writers to speak only to each other, or only to the few people who read the review pages. An American reviewer had recently described one of Hornby’s books as being ‘shamefully readable’, though you don’t hear restaurant reviewers describing food as ‘shamefully edible’. The idea that books should be work to read is entrenched in review culture.

Hornby reads because he loves to hang out with people who read, and he wouldn’t have anything to say without reading. He has a profound fear of boredom. Reading helps with his writing. Novels get closer to the way people think and feel than films and TV ever can. He wishes he’d said that he wants every school child to find ten books that they love before they leave school. Only then would they be set up as lifelong readers.

 

Related:

Is it possible to elicit a love of reading in children?

Required reading is hurting America

A LibraryThing list of books for adults in which the protagonist happens to be a teenager

What Is Dystopia?

dystopias in fiction

According to a large portion of the world’s population, humankind is already living in a dystopia.

The fun part about living right now is we get to see how it ends.

@meganamram

Dystopia and The Bible

Ever since God punished Adam, Eve and the serpent for eating from that tree we have been banished from Paradise. Compared to Paradise, this toiling, this painful childbirth, these thistles and weeds growing up through our crops are considered part of this Earthly dystopia — a temporary punishment before taking up residence in Paradise once more in the after life.

If not taken literally by so many today, Earth as a dystopian setting was certainly more literal for earlier peoples from the major religious traditions.

Although dystopia seems to be the opposite of idyll, it has in fact the same purpose: to conserve the children–as well as adults–in an innocent, unchanging state, comfortably freed from memories, emotions, affections, responsibilities–and from natural death. Breaking away from a safe and secluded dystopian society, children break out into linearity.

— Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature

Nikolajeva goes on to explain that quite a few authors depict a reverse process, and offers A Cry from the Jungle by Norwegian author Tormod Haugen as an example of an ‘extremely complicated and equivocal novel.’

Features Of Dystopian Fiction

Characters in a dystopian plot start from a position of slavery.

If the land, people, and technology are out of balance, everyone is out for himself, each is reduced to an animal clawing for scarce resources or a cog working for the greater good of a machine. This is a world of slavery and, taken to its extreme, a dystopia, or hell on earth.

In dystopian novels, the protagonist usually rebels against the status quo by exposing its flaws, escaping the world entirely, attempting to take it over, or initiating a new set of rules.

Dystopian novels become difficult to classify because they often take place after a large societal restructuring, usually because of a global event. In this way they might seem post-apocalyptic, but when the conflict of a novel focuses on the oppression of a government or set of ideas, rather than the direct consequences of a wide-spread tragedy, it is dystopian.

Dystopian novels often focus on societies and cultures that appear stable and well established, whereas post-apocalyptic cultures are more imbalanced or volatile.

A Brief History Of Dystopia

The first public usage of the word ‘dystopia’ goes all the way back to John Stuart Mill in 1868. In a speech to the House of Commons, Mill said, “It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians” (‘cacotopia’ was relegated to the Wastepaper Basket of History). But it wasn’t until about 50 years afterward, when authors made the word their own, that the idea of dystopia began to actually take root in the public consciousness.

Electric Literature

The Dystopia and Young Readers

According to a new report, Australian kids are feeling pessimistic about their own futures, and this goes against all evidence. Australian kids should be feeling pretty good about the future, according to one expert.

Key points from the radio interview:

  • Youth unemployment has been higher in the past, and is reflecting that it takes time to find their way into the job market, as unemployment goes down as job seekers get older. This is reflected in other countries. Southern European unemployment rates for youth (especially Southern Italy and Spain) is much more bleak.
  • Why are young Australian people pessimistic? It is thought that young Australians have unrealistic expectations about what to expect from a first job. In Brazil, China and countries like that have youth with lower expectations and are therefore more optimistic.
  • Older people need to tell young people what their own paths to success have been.
  • The media also has a part to play. We’ve seen processing plants closing down, but we don’t see the steady flow of new job opportunities coming through the news. The small trickle more than offsets the big closures. (Audiences are after bad news, and the media cater to that.)
  • The number of law graduates each year far exceeds the number of places available. Law is ‘the new arts degree’. It’s true that law graduates are still useful in the workplace even if they are not practising law, but are young law students given a realistic idea about what percentage of graduates will find jobs as lawyers? Law graduates are not expensive to produce for universities. It’s book learning so they are cheap to train. Universities are following a good economic pattern, but at what cost for the 18 year olds enrolling in these degrees, which are quite expensive for them? (Or perhaps law students are more expensive to train than we assume.)
  • IT students are equally pessimistic as law students. Private providers are competing with the universities in IT, moving into computer science, which is quite distinct from being able to program. The ability to successfully adapt different technologies in work environments, they are the crucial skills. Just being able to code in a particular language isn’t much use. Australia is good at having the bright idea and being able to adapt the bright idea in a business context.
  • Where is the pessimism coming from? The negativity from politicians doesn’t help. Universities haven’t been very good at making their graduates work-ready.
  • We need to change the nature of internships and cadetships, which currently accept large numbers of graduates but at the end of that period only one in sixty (for example in finance) will be offered a job at the end of it. This turns the whole thing into a bit of a waste of time for the other 59. Internships need to go hand-in-hand with study. Companies need to work more closely with degree programs to prepare students for the workforce.

Where else might youth pessimism be coming from? Is it limited to ‘pessimism about work’ or pessimism about the environment, politics and society in general? Could youth pessimism also be to do with the stories that are popular for young people? Today’s young people have grown up in the Third Golden Age of Children’s Literature, and this is an age rife with dystopias. There have been so many dystopias in fiction that if you listen to what agents and publishers are looking for in the kidlit-o-sphere you’ll hear a lot of publishing professionals say they are sick to death of them and are looking for something completely different.

Here in Australia, parallel importing and the Hollywood trend of adapting best-selling YA books to film has changed the Australian reading landscape over the past 15 years to point where the top-selling books are mainly from America.

Insofar as best-selling books corresponds to library lending rates (which are very easy to find), here are Australia’s library lending stats for YA last year:

The most borrowed young adult fiction titles were:

1.       Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (American/science fiction adventure)

2.       Divergent series by Veronica Roth (American/science fiction adventure)

3.       The Fault in our Stars by John Green (American/romance)

4.       The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (Australian/Holocaust)

5.       Looking for Alaska by John Green (American/romance)

6.       Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (American/fantasy adventure)

7.       The Maze Runner by James Dashner (American/science fiction)

8.       Every Breath by Ellie Marney (Australian/thriller)

9.       An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (American/romance)

10.   Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (American/fantasy adventure)

Ms McKerracher said: ‘Teen borrowers from Australian libraries were looking for a blend of escapism and realism. Gritty romances, fantasy and adventure were the main themes, with all but two of the list coming from American writers.’

Australia’s Favourite Library Books

Apocalyptic Fiction

An apocalyptic novel tells the story of the end of the world, which occurs during the timeline of the story. The novels Outbreak and World War Z, or the movie Contagion, are good examples. In almost all apocalyptic stories life is threatened on a global scale: disease, natural disaster, war, or alien invasion, for example. The characters facing an apocalypse must try to outlive, outlast, or outsmart the hazards of a crumbling world, which is made increasingly unlikely when the majority of the population has fallen victim. It is common for apocalyptic novels to classify as “genre,” because the survival conflict is at the forefront of the story, making apocalyptic stories more plot driven than character based.

Post-Apocalyptic

After the zombies or super flu or nuclear war, the characters left to deal with the consequences are in a post-apocalyptic story. There are numerous examples: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I Am Legend, and the recent Station Eleven, The Dog Stars, and The Dead Lands all tell stories about people navigating a new and hostile world. The central conflict for characters in a post-apocalyptic story is managing the new physical, social, and cultural landscape left behind by a recent disaster. There are often fewer people and less established societies in post-apocalyptic novels, so the central conflict in these stories surrounds characters who are often fighting for resources or searching for other survivors.

What Is Cli-fi?

It wasn’t until I’d got to the end of writing and illustrating Midnight Feast that this article appeared in The Guardian: Global Warming And The Rise Of Cli-Fi. I realised that what I’d written was a picturebook contribution to cli-fi.

  • a sub-genre of sci-fi in which the earth’s systems are ‘off-kilter’
  • sci-fi takes place in a dystopian future, whereas cli-fi is set in a dystopian present
  • Describes works which set out to warn readers of possible environmental nightmares to come
  • The best cli-fi novels allow us to be briefly but intensely frightened: climate chaos is closer, more immediate, hovering over our shoulder like that murderer wielding his knife.
  • Unlike sci-fi, cli-fi writing comes primarily from a place of warning rather than discovery.

See Also: So Hot Right Now: Has climate change created a new literary genre, from NPR

love in the time of global warming

 

What do you think would happen in a globally warmed globe? Do you envision a Cormac McCarthy sort of apocalypse with bands of humans turning evil? In fiction, this is pretty much a given. Could there be a brighter view?

Our own storybook app Midnight Feast is kind of cli-fi (if you like). Another storybook app which is more overtly about climate change is this oneJörgits is iPad-only.

Some people think there is still not enough cli-fi.

Related Links

Why Teens Find The End Of The World So Appealing from NPR

Why do literary novelists love dystopia? from Salon

The Dystopian Timeline to The Hunger Games [INFOGRAPHIC] via Goodreads

A flowchart which will help you decode dystopia from eBook Friendly

A LibraryThing list of YA Dystopia

Fear of a Feminist Dystopia by Laurie Penny

For a different setting altogether, see my post on utopias.

Genres In Children’s Literature: Lecture 14: Social Issues In Realistic Fiction

In Sweden, a critic has coined the notion of idyllophobia, a fear of presenting the world of childhood as idyllic. Children’s and juvenile literature becomes more and more violent, not necessarily in actual depictions of violence, but in the general attitude toward the essence of childhood. The narrative strategies which writers use, most often the autodiegetic unreliable young narrator, amplify the tone of the novels as uncertain, insecure and chaotic. In many novels, notably Cormier’s I Am The Cheese, we see a total disintegration of character, narrative and structure. YA novel as a narrative which goes beyond the point of no return to idyll also transgresses all conventions which are normally ascribed to children’s fiction.

— Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature

I Am The Cheese cover

David Beagley, La Trobe University, lecture available on iTunes U

.

Readings

  • Only Connect by Sheila A. Egoff. In the second edition is a very good article about the ‘Problem Novel’, which was starting to become prevalent in YA fiction. [I’ve also heard ‘Issues Novel’ a lot.] Rather than an adventure in which the MC goes away on an adventure, the problem exists at home.
  • Robin Sheahan-Bright talks about this [exact work not given in the audio]
  • Maureen Nimon (retired 2004, University Of South Australia) looks at the idea of censorship — what are the boundaries that adult mediators (especially librarians) set for children? Where do they draw the line? (John McKenzie disagrees with Nimon’s position quite strongly.)
  • Robin Klein’s Came Back To Show You I Could Fly is about a young boy who moves into a new house. Something has disruped his family and he meets the next door neighbour who is a bit of a rebel/streetkid. She is teenaged, heavily tattooed, pregnant, heavily into drugs. The 12 year old boy learns to deal with what he has discovered.
  • Dear Miffy by John Marsden caused a huge furor and a lot of people changed their attitude towards Marsden. Marsden is very good at portraying female characters. All the voices in his other works are spoken by a teenage female — very direct, very good. And then this one is a diary by a boy. People were surprised at the drugs/sex content, but also the language, which people saw as ‘un-Marsden-like’.
  • Morris Gleitzman’s Boy Overboard and its sequel Girl Underground — issues around boat people and detention centers. Two Afghan boys are desperate to play for Australia in WC soccer. But they’re in a detention camp. As with all Gleitzman’s stories, there is a wonderful surface of humour, but underneath is a tough story.

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