Kirsten Smith is no stranger to stories of adolescence and in her debut novel, Trinkets, she once again captures the hearts and hurts of America’s teenage girls. Tabitha, Moe and Elodie have no more in common than the school they attend but when all three wind up in Shoplifter’s Anonymous together an unusual relationship unfolds.
Smith’s screenwriting credits include 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde. The dialogue and storyline that make those scripts uniquely identifiable are just as present in her novel. Just like real adolescence Trinkets is punctuated with emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs. None of the main characters come from a stable home – their mothers are passive and 2 of the 3 fathers are absent. The boys they date are abusive and distant. The girls in their peer group are superficial or mean. In 275 pages Smith manages to examine some of the most serious issues facing teenage girls and yet the book is never too preachy or depressing. These girls are no victims of circumstance.
Tabitha, Moe and Elodie are smart and savvy offering insightful reactions to their situations. Each is motivated to steal for different reasons and they each come to discover themselves in very different ways. I was particularly drawn to Tabitha, whose perspective is loaded with cultural implications of being a girl. Watching her friends get ready she notes: “That’s what sucks about Mirror Face; you make it because it’s how you want other people to see you, but you’re the only person who actually gets to.” And, in response to her own boyfriend, she observes, “Sometimes it seems like guys really hate girls, with all the little things they say and do to try and get us to hate ourselves.” I also loved how she moves away from popularity for her own self-maintenance and, in doing so, inspires her mother to reconsider her own choices.
!!! The book’s cover features a photograph by 18 year old Petra Collins !!!
Alicia’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars Author: Kirsten Smith Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (March 2013)
Note: received from author for honest review
It seemed impossible to fit all the people she’d ever been into a single body…. (p.228)
It is the summer of 1929 when we meet Elsa Emerson, a resident of Door County, Wisconsin where her family houses and runs a theatre company. The youngest of three daughters, nine year old Elsa is desperately in love with the stage and jumps at every opportunity to be involved although it is her sister, Hilly, who assumes the beautiful starlet role. Beauty is as much a curse as it is a blessing and it is through Hilly that Straub first offers perspective on the roles we play: as women, as daughters and the ever evolving identity of our “self.” When the theatre’s leading man impregnates and then denies her, Hilly takes her own life leaving a gaping hole in the family unit and in young Elsa’s heart.
Looking for a way out, with a strong resolve to fulfill Hilly’s dreams as well as her own, Elsa marries aspiring actor, Gordon Pitts. Together they travel to Hollywood where Elsa is left to a traditional life of domesticity and motherhood while Gordon has moderate success as an actor. Pregnant with her second child and accompanying Gordon to a cast party, Elsa catches the eye of studio head Irving Green. Green quickly becomes her mentor, her confidant and, eventually, her second husband. Committed to making her a star, Elsa gives herself up to Green who, after a complete makeover, re-introduces her to the world as Laura Lamont.
Movie lovers will enjoy Straub’s journey into the golden era of film – a glamorous and innovative time in our nation’s collective consciousness. For the rest of the novel, we follow Laura’s rising star, as she becomes a successful, award-winning actress and the inevitable fall of that star in the fickle world that is Hollywood. Straub’s narrative, while eloquent and rich with detail, is as predictable as Hollywood itself. Laura’s success develops from her relationship to a powerful man and studio owner yet is sustained by her beauty – a “look” created by Green – and her ability to follow the unwritten rules of women in Hollywood: Be beautiful, Be agreeable, Be quiet. The women around her fit neatly into stereotypical boxes and, as she ages, she struggles to find work.
For most of her life, Laura lives in quiet conflict with the person she is on the outside and the girl from Door County who resides within her soul. It is these moments where the novel sings. Through the lens of Laura/Elsa, Straub invites us to consider the many roles we play in this life and the value each has for ourselves and for others.
Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars Author: Emma Straub Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (September 2012)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review
First of all, Sonia Manzano wrote this book. Doesn’t ring a bell? Perhaps you know her as Maria…from Sesame Street. That’s right.
Evelyn “Don’t Call Me Rosa” Serrano is a 15 year old in growing up in Spanish Harlem, NYC at a tenuous time in our nation’s history. But, Evelyn can’t see past the importance of her own life. She is disconnected from her Puerto Rican heritage and embarrassed by her traditional parents, especially “my mother, the slave.” When her mother’s Mother, Evelyn’s Abuela, shows up on their doorstep Evelyn is certain her life will only get worse. Covered in bright make-up, with wild hair and dressed like someone half her age, Abuela is a sight but what’s worse is how she talks – “This whole scene sounded like something on one of the telenovela soap operas on Telemundo.”
At the same time that Evelyn’s familial life is in turmoil, something is brewing in her neighborhood, El Barrio. The Young Lords, a Puerto Rican activist group, have taken space in the church across the street and are challenging the community members to join them as agents of cultural change. With her Abuela on the front lines while her own mother hides at home, Evelyn begins to explore a world much bigger than her own and is inspired by what she discovers.
Situating a coming of age story in a time when the entire country was amidst multiple revolutions leave countless opportunities for discussion and subversion. Manzano taps into that age appropriate couth she honed for years on Sesame Street to produce a novel that is honest enough about the reality of social change but pertinent enough to the experience of the reader, especially those Evelyn’s age. Manzano’s choices also make a strong case for the value of female relationships and the importance of women in leadership. Through her developing relationship with Abuela and a desire sparked by the energy of the Young Lords, Evelyn begins to understand the importance of history and her place in it. As she becomes more aware of herself and the past that has shaped her, her apathy evolves into compassion for her mother and a sense of connection to her community.
There are many ways to categorize what the Young Lords stood for but an essential piece to take away is the power yielded by a group of young people who were motivated to create positive change in support of a marginalized group. Manzano uses their legacy as a metaphor for the revolution that occurs within Evelyn – the discovery of one’s personal identity and how that identity will participate in the world.
Alicia’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars Author:Sonia Manzano Publisher:Scholastic (September 2012)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review
Congratulations to Sonia Manzano on her 2013 Belpré Honor Award for Text!
Alenna Shawcross, the protagonist of Lisa M Stasse’s debut novel The Forsaken, is inevitably going to be compared to Katniss Everdeen. Before reading The Forsaken, my copy sat staring at me from my desk where I continued to ignore it. I was sure it would be just like The Hunger Games. I don’t know when I got so closed-minded, people.
Alenna is like Katniss in so much that she is a teenage girl in dystopic new world about to embark on a hero’s journey. That and the three of us totally would’ve been friends in high school. Designated an orphan since the current government, U.N.A., raided her house and kidnapped her parents, Alenna has survived in obedient solitude. When a U.N.A. mandated test marks her as “brutally violent” she is exiled to The Wheel, a mysterious island of deviant teens. In The Hunger Games, Katniss knows she is a hunter; while her confidence may still be shaky, she is aware of her skill and how it will serve her in battle. In The Forsaken, Alenna doesn’t know what her skill is; she doesn’t understand how she is valuable. It is the promise of this discovery and the process by which it is made that makes her journey worth reading about.
Stasse has a cerebral tone and it is Alenna’s analysis of her situation plus the actions it motivates that kept me engaged. Her journey is one of self-discovery motivated by discovering the truth about her parents and the inevitable life changes that come with being 16, no matter who or where you are. The adolescent angst of belonging is exacerbated by the extreme reality in which these characters exist. An internal battle exists among The Wheel’s inhabitants, the power divided between a violent dictator calling the shots from behind a wooden mask and a young couple offering a pretense of normalcy. Alenna is immediately protected and befriended by another girl, Gadya, and joins what seems to be the more humane camp.
Stasse tributes The Lord of the Flies in The Wheel’s savageness but offers us hope in Alenna’s friendship with Gadya and her protection of David, the first person she meets on the island. Oh, and there is a boy. The mysterious boy who spoke to Alenna through the TV, the boy she believed in before she knew what she was going to be fighting for, the boy with the blue eyes.
No longer allowed the privilege of not participating, Alenna is stimulated by a circumstance greater than her that forces her into relationships, into action and into the process of becoming a fully realized human being.
Superstar recently became available on Netflix Watch Instantly. If you have never seen it, please, do yourself the favor of watching one of the most hilarious films in the Saturday Night Live canon.
Molly Shannon is at her comic best channeling the spirit of 16-year-old catholic schoolgirl Mary Catherine Gallagher – one of the most memorable characters from her six seasons on SNL. Will Ferrell co-stars as Sky Corrigan, the coolest guy in school and Mary’s crush. Of course Sky is an amazing dancer and Ferrell’s goofball sincerity is charming as usual as he pantomimes through a diversity of dance moves throughout the film. He also shows up as God. Ferrell and Shannon came into SNL together, in the mid-90’s resurgence, and their pairings are some of my favorites.
The film is also full of more subtle comedic moments which come from the periphery characters created by a solid ensemble of talented players: Kids in the Hall alum Mark McKinney as Father Ritley, Mary’s exasperated headmaster, the magical Glynis Johns as Mary’s Grandmother and another SNL alum, Harlan Williams, cameos as a dark and mysterious stranger. My favorite is Emmy Laybourne as Mary’s overzealous best friend, Helen.
Of course I love this movie because it’s really a teen film – a unique and hilarious teen film. Superstar is a romp through the perils of adolescence with enough camp to make it ridiculous but not unbelievable. Like most young girls in America, Mary dreams of being a “Superstar!” (You know the move). She is exploring her identity and bursting to express herself but does so in awkward and clumsy ways. Her Grandmother has stifled her dreams by forbidding her to perform and insisting she become a businesswomen. At school she is bullied and tormented by mean cheerleaders (Elaine Hendrix is vicious as the queen bee, Evian). Pretty typical adolescence.
But, like many of Shannon’s other characters, Mary prevails. She is a woman who knows what she wants. She holds her own and stands up for herself. She remains true to herself. She continues to fight for her dream. And it’s all pretty freaking funny.
Right now we are alive and in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.
I always think it’s exciting when books I love are turned into films because it signifies that someone else understands how powerful, beautiful, poignant and amazing this book is and they want to share it with an audience. While I realize that is not always the motivation in Hollywood, in this case I believe it to be true considering producer John Malkovich went straight to author Stephen Chbosky to adapt the screenplay and that Chbosky was hired to direct. It isn’t frequently the norm in Hollywood that a novice director would be given the opportunity to direct a high volume project? Then again, he is a dude.
If you have no relationship to the book, or if you’re not really into movies that reflect reality, you may find this film depressing or even boring. Set in the early 90s in suburban Pittsburgh, Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman) a lonely high school freshman recovering from the suicide of his best friend and working through a lifetime of unbalanced emotions. Urged by his therapist to “participate” Charlie seeks salvation with the help of two new friends, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), the guidance of his English teacher (Paul Rudd), and, the ultimate life saving device – music.
While the film did a good job painting the picture of adolescent “outcast” culture it was a little too glossy. Having the author so involved is certainly what saved Perks from being a watered down replica of itself but the film was produced within the “Hollywood machine,” essentially sacrificing some of the creative control that may have lent to it’s authenticity. Another coming of age story set in the mid-90s, 2008′s The Wackness was a period piece that made nostalgic for the era in which it was set and the music triggering as much of a response as the plot and performances. But, the film adaptation of Perks just made me nostalgic for the book. Oh, isn’t that always the case? Chbosky himself admitted this was one of the most difficult projects he’s worked on:
“It was the most challenging screenplay I’ve ever written, just by the nature of what the book was — a first-person epistolary novel. To turn that into something objective with the same emotional intimacy and emotional catharsis was hard.” (Miami Herald, 9/30/12)
The music for the most part stayed true to the book except for a brief cameo by Cracker’s Low, which was never mentioned in the book and wasn’t released until 1993. This was nullified when Dear God by XTC, a staple of my freshman year in the suburbs of Philadelphia, played a narrator’s role in a significant transitional scene. A letter to God questioning the pain and sorrow in the world, I still sing the opening line to myself when I am feeling particularly hopeless. Have a listen on Spotify.
Your connection to the characters, and especially Charlie, will ultimately decide how much you enjoy the film and Lerman (Hoot) succeeds in delivering a deeply moving performance. Part of Charlie’s alienation, and woven into the subtext of the film, is the deviation from traditional male behavior. Charlie is emotional, caring, reserved. He’s not an athlete or a Casanova. He is moved by music and literature. We continuously see his admiration of admiration of and respect for women – in his support of his sister after he witness her boyfriend slap her and his unconditional love for Sam, regardless of the rumors that tarnish her reputation. And while these are both serious issues affecting teen girls – dating violence, slut shaming – the core of the film brings much needed attention to the complicated experience of boys, driven by Charlie and Patrick.
Two of my favorite young actors, Lerman and Miller both successfully deliver a unique portrayal of masculinity essential to both of their characters. Miller (City Island) infuses Patrick with a delightful fervor for life and irreverence for his tormentors. How much of it is bravado is unclear until what he is holding inside is finally given cause to break out. In one of the most volatile scenes, both Charlie and Patrick are caught in a convolution of anger, fear, violence, aggression and survival. When Patrick is beaten and emotionally broken, it is Charlie who comes to his rescue both physically and emotionally. The tenderness of their relationship is another powerful image for teens to receive.
Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly not the traditional “teen romp” caliber but these are important characters to see on screen. Perks couldn’t be better timed to reflect challenges contemporary teenagers face in their everyday lives and if they only find support and solidarity on film, it’s better than nothing. Truly, the story is timeless and for many us the haunts and angst of adolescence stay with us well into adulthood. The desire to belong, to be valued, to protect the ones we love and have course, the hardest part, to just be happy.
This post was originally written for our favorite online magazine, Sadie Magazine (go check them out!), and posted on our sister site pop!goesalicia. Sharing is caring.
This book just landed itself at the top of my favorite reads of 2012. Kat Zhang’s debut novel about an alternative world where individuals are hybrids – 2 souls existing in one body – except in America, where hybrids are outcast and “othered.” In this “America” the hybrid souls eventually divide, with one personality becoming dominant while the other recedes. If it doesn’t happen naturally, the government makes it happen.
The novel tells the story of Addie and Eva, a 13-year-old hybrid resisting and pretending to be only one soul. But when another classmate introduces them to a way of letting Eva inhabit the body, the girls are faced with an onslaught of choices and challenges leading to their own destruction or a cultural revolution.
Zhang takes very complicated and fascinating subject matter and explores it through the lens of adolescence – an already volatile time of change and confusion. The emotions that arise between Addie and Eva are so common to typical sibling struggles with identity and individuality that I had to keep reminding myself of the fact that they shared a body. Though Addie’s dominance is an effect of Eva’s inability to exist in the physical realm it gives her power nonetheless. And, though Eva may appear to be the one who is trapped, Addie carries the weight of both her and Eva’s actions and desires as well as the responsibility of keeping Eva from being exposed. Both girls struggle with the guilt of their choice, Eva with her resistance to “fade” and Addie with the privilege of being dominant.
The commentary on mental illness, specifically schizophrenia is undeniable, especially when Addie is sent for special tests to a facility I imagined to be its own hybrid of the patients of Girl, Interrupted and the grotto of hidden children from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. What’s Left of Me also invites a dialogue around the the complicated relationships that affect social change. The spaces where the personal is the political and the ones you love most are on the opposite side of the battlefield. I feel like I read a pro-life subtext around the abortion issue in this country specifically the debate around who has the right to exist and who has the power to decide. But ultimately what came through, and what I hope the rest of the series explores, is the overwhelming drive to preserve freedom and never giving up your right to your own life.
Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars Author:Kat Zhang Publisher:HarperTeen (September 2012)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review
It’s September, which means it’s time for another Mixtape Mashup! September is looking to be an exciting month for books and albums, so we’ve gone ahead and made some pairings for your reading and listening enjoyment.
1. The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano
Scholastic, September 1, 2012
14 year old Rosa “call me Evelyn” Serrano is embarrassed by her mother and detached from her Puerto Rican heritage but when her Abuelita (Grandmother) comes to town Evelyn’s world and attitude are rocked to the core. I didn’t like Evelyn much at first and thought that would make the book hard to read but her transformation comes quick. Witness to the political movement that is being sparked in her neighborhood, Evelyn soon begins to understand the fragile relationships that connect family, politics and her own personal identity.
Kreayshawn – Somethin’ Bout Kreay
Sony UK, September 25, 2012
I don’t know a lot about Kreayshawn but I know she is a white female rapper, arguably a minority in the wolrd of Hip Hop, and I’m curious to see how her career develops. Rosa-call-me-Evelyn could use a peer who isn’t afraid disrupt the norm and inspires her to color outside the lines. This is the track that put her on the map:
Lupe Fiasco – Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1
Atlantic, September 25, 2012
Lupe is great listening for this book because of his strong loyalties to his city, Chicago, and the relationship Hip Hop as a form of expression has with revolutions of people, places and institutions. This album may be especially poignant as he recently suggested it might be his last when speaking out about the current climate of Hip Hop music and the epidemic of violence in his native Chicago. Check it. This is the opening track from his second album, The Cool:
2. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Riverhead, September 4, 2012
It is the late 30s and Elsa Emerson marries off her family’s farm in Door County, Wisconsin to follow her dreams in Hollywood via her young husband. Barely 21 and pregnant with her second child she is discovered by studio head Irving Green and her life is forever changed. Emma Straub’s debut novel is lyrical anthology of one girl’s struggle to fit between two different worlds and a beautiful story of the relationships between sisters, mothers, and girlfriends.
The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
Universal Republic, September 11, 2012
Two brothers from North Carolina who toe the line between citizen and celebrity, country and city, artist and carpenter. Since making acquaintances with them in Charlotte, NC (from where they hail) their music has inspired and excited me especially their self-reflection and sweet respect for the ladies. They have received more mainstream success in the last few years, split like Laura between their past and their future, but I trust they know where home is. Here’s a song off their new album:
3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
GRAPHIX, September 1, 2012
Em and I are both excited for the new graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. Just the cover conjures my nostalgia for Daria. Like Callie, I also loved theater but was a terrible singer, and never really found my place in the “drama” clique. Good Reads describes Drama as “another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama.” Sweet.
Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil
8ft. records, September 11, 2012
Amanda Fucking Palmer, as she is also known, releases her third solo album today and it is EPIC! There are so many reasons I love her, one being that on her Wikipedia page there is a “Controversies” section. Trivia moment! Palmer is an independent artist who funded her album on Kickstarter and became the first musician to pass the million-dollar mark on the site by raising 1.2 million. Extra Credit – her album is being released with a companion book of art!!! This new video from her new album is sure to have people talking and I love the way she blends visual art and music to create her vision:
No Doubt – Push and Shove
Interscope Records, September 25, 2012
Em is more excited about this release than I am but I have always liked and respected No Doubt. Formed by High School friends the current members have been playing together since 1989 – basically their entire careers and lives. Having never broken up and continuously putting out top selling albums is quite the feat in the music industry. I appreciate that Stefani’s drama manifests only in her style and stage presence. You can download the first single “Settle Down” on iTunes but this is still the JAM!
4. The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanangan
Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 11, 2012
First of all, Rollrock Island? If going purely by name alone I would totally want to live there. But after reading the first line of the book’s description “On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings–and to catch their wives,” I think I’ll stay on the mainland. Apparently, there are witches and women empowered in other ways and the result sounds like a fascinating tale of men and women and the cruel beauty of human relationships.
Calexico – Algiers
Anti- Records, September 11, 2012
I discovered Calexico via their 2005 collaboration with Iron & Wine, In the Reins, and have since been a fan. You can listen to two tracks from Algiers on Spotify but I have to offer this track as a listening companion for The Brides of Rollrock Island:
5. What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
HarperCollins, September 18, 2012
This novel is the first of a new series: The Hybrid Chronicles. I am 5 chapters in to this book and it is super freaking interesting. Granted, I am not an avid “sci-fi” reader but the idea of two souls existing in one body is something I can relate to, as is Addie and Eva’s complicated relationship to each other as sisters. Both want to take care of the other, make the other happy; both think the other deserves freedom but the power is ultimately beyond them. Or is it? I think there is an interesting subtext here around pregnancy and the abortion issue – as Goodreads puts it: “What’s Left of Me tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive…”.
Cat Power – Sun
Matador Records, September 4, 2012
Cat Power aka Chan Marshall has always appeared to struggle with her public and private personas. Seems like everyone I know has a story about her erratic behavior. Known for her sad, simple songs on piano her 9th album Sun is definitely a brighter spot in the Cat Power catalogue. Listen to the first single – Ruin – here
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
4AD, September 11, 2012
Another hybrid, this is the first collaborative effort by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and St. Vincent (Annie Erin Clark). It’s a surprising pairing considering their genre and generational differences, which is why I am curious to hear it. Here’s the first video, and first track, off Love This Giant:
Their last year together. This year, without Tink.
It is only in the minds of our narrators, Merissa, the over-achieving golden girl, and Nadia, uncertain and innocent, that we get to know Tink Traumer, the mysterious girl who showed up one day at Quaker Heights High School and changed their lives forever. All of them. Merissa, Nadia, Chloe, Hannah and sometimes Anita Chang. But, now Tink is d**d.
Joyce Carol Oates writes the most chilling type of fiction, no matter what the subject, because she immerses her stories in reality. Two or Three Things could easily serve as a textbook for adolescent girls with the magnitude of issues Oates covers. Suicide, cutting, anger, depression, divorce, bullying…Oates has always had a penchant for the gritty under the pretty. Yet, while dark and tragic, her stories are never without redemption or revolution, especially in the lives of girls. These girls are smart girls, wry and witty and conscious of, though not certain about, the way the world works.
“I heard from Tink today,” they whisper between classes, in secret text messages, or at the lunch table. Neither wants to talk too much about it for fear it is not real and speaking of it would only make Tink disappear more. And, they can hardly survive in a world without Tink. It’s Merissa and Nadia who are most deeply affected by the d***h of Tink Traumer. Merissa is undergoing a painful evolution in the wake of her parent’s impending divorce and Nadia has been bullied ever since making out with Colin. Slut, they call her as she walks down the hall, or in texts, or on the message boards. Tink was their fearless leader.
In her absence, Merissa is breaking and Nadia is drowning. Both are struggling with destructive obsessions and both are contemplating Tink’s choice, beginning to think it makes sense. Their minds are punctuated with memories of Tink and her d***h. Tink was a girl lost in her own life, who maybe they didn’t really know at all but who they loved. And who loved them. It’s Tink who’ll keep them safe. And, it must have been Tink Traumer who inspired Merissa’s (awesome!) awakening to rebellion by her rejection of Jane Austen and the lead role in the school play, Pride and Prejudice, because “I don’t respect the Jane Austen world. It’s just silly and depressing.”
Oates’ novels are always informed by a clear commitment to female relationships and I love how this novel celebrates the undeniable importance of girl friends. Writing like she is one of the girls, Oates is always on her character’s side and Two or Three Things is testament to love and sisterhood in which the girls rely on each other to figure out their healing.
Alicia’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars Author:Joyce Carol Oates Publisher:HarperTeen (August 21, 2012)
Note: ARC received from local bookseller
Two or Three Joyce Carol Oates Novels You Must Read
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (1993):
One of my all time top ten list and definitely top five, possibly my number #1. They are making a new movie this year. The old film from 1996 stars a young Angelina Jolie and is terrible.
Man Crazy (1997):
I read this book in my first Women’s Studies class and loved it. Just read it.
Because it is Bitter, and Because it’s my Heart (1990):
A love story between a white girl and black boy during the Civil Rights era in the American South. Heart wrenching, fact based fiction.
I have been playing a game with my Facebook and blog followers where I pose a theme and ask people to comment with the name of a band (I choose the songs). I take the first 10 responses and create a mix tape with my own additional 5 choices for coherence and transition. The first attempt, What Would Katniss Listen To, was successful and if you friend me on FB, I can share the Spotify playlist. We decided to try a similar idea here at Love YA Lit with a literary twist. In reflecting on National Black Music Month (June), I decided to create a top five in honor of Black music, Black authors and Black characters. This is a Mixtape Madness Mash-up, y’all!
“Seems like people been teasing me all my life…. It’s bad enough that I’m the darkest, worse-dressed thing in school. I’m also the tallest, skinniest thing you ever seen.” (p. 4)
This is Maleeka Madison, a wise beyond her years middle school student battling the internalized racism of classmates, teachers and even herself. I loved how aware Maleeka was of other people’s ignorance yet found herself yearning for their acceptance. Her story is personal and unique yet completely relatable.
“You never think other folks got feelings. Like Janelle. I must’ve cracked wise a hundred times about her weight. Never even thought about it. It was just something I did for a laugh. Listening to her now, it don’t seem all that funny.” (p. 50)
The story of an 8th grade English class and a teacher’s creativity, this book is an inspiring read about education, art and the overwhelming power of expression. I love books that switch narrators and Grimes takes it a step further by never appropriating a lead voice or main character in her story. The characters exist through the eyes of each other – classmates, rivals, crushes – and are self defined through the poetry they are writing.
“Maybe, while he was in jail, Tupac started thinking about his Big Purpose. That’s what D called it – our Big Purpose. She said everybody’s got one and it’s just that we gotta figure out what it is and then go have it. The night she said it for the first time, it was late in the summer of 1995 and we were all just hanging out – me, her, and Neeka -watching music videos on TV.” (p. 7)
Jacqueline Woodson’s novel continues to tell the story of three best friends and the omnipresent influence of Tupac Shakur on their loves and identities. Any music fan can relate to Woodson’s characters that look to music to help them understand themselves and their lives. Those of us who hold a special reverence for Tupac as an artist and a creative soul will be especially touched by the tenderness of D and the vulnerable elements that make her connect so deeply to a man and his music.
Song accompaniments (a brief homage to Pac and especially to D and her girls):
I love how the juxtaposition of theses two songs (the 2 most successful on the 1993 album Strictly for my N.I.G.G.A.Z.):) Illustrates the struggle of Tupac, both as an artist and an individual, and the essence of what his fans love about him.
2Pac – Changes (originally recorded in 1992, but released 2 years after his death)
“The less I behaved like myself, the more I could believe that this was still a game. That my real self—Birdie Lee—was safely hidden beneath my beige flesh, and that when the right moment came, I would reveal her, preserved, frozen solid in the moment in which I had left her” (p. 233)
I was obsessed with this book when I first read it. It begins in the 1970’s in politically and racially charged Boston and tells the story of Birdie and Cole, daughters of an interracial couple who are separated when their parents flee from the law each going with the parent they look more alike. The story is told in Birdie’s voice, the daughter who has been forced by her mother to pass for a white, Jewish girl, as she comes of age and comes to terms with her own self-discovery. It is a truly fascinating story about race and identity and the things we rely on to define ourselves.
“She cannot chain my soul. Yes, she could hurt me. She’s already done so. But what was one more beating? A flogging, even? I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her. This was a new notion to me and a curious one.” (p 246-247)
Ok, technically I have not read this book but it is a fact-based fiction of 13-year-old Isabella and her sister, Ruth, struggling for life and freedom during the American Revolutionary War. Written by the same author as Speak, I am sure it will be awesome. And, I will probably learn something. Double awesome.