Archive | September, 2010

Author Adele Griffin on Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War

30 Sep

“You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set up here. The greed part—a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part—watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they’re safe in the bleachers. That’s why it works, Carter, because we’re all bastards.”
–Archie Costello, The Chocolate War

It has been over thirty-five years since Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War was published—a book that holds a third place position in the American Library Association’s Most Banned Books of this past decade. Wow. Who knew. (Me, I didn’t, until I looked up the list.) So what’s the big deal about this book, one of my own top three most beloved YA novels of all time? Aside from its violence, strong language, and the sacrilege of corrupt priests who make tactic agreements with their most powerful students in order to enforce Groupthink? Well, sure. There’s that. But I believe what really makes Cormier’s The Chocolate War the Oh-No-He-Didn’t book of Time Unending is its philosophical position that human nature is an inexorably dark place, and that the power of the mob is most dangerous when it is turned onto the spectacle of suffering. It’s a grim summation, diametrically opposed to the viewpoint most notably expressed by Anne Frank’s earnest (if ironic) belief that: “Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart.”

When I first read this book, many years ago, I, too, was attending a small Catholic school very close to Cormier’s Leominster, Massachusetts. At the time, most of the book’s so-called shockers glanced off me. I wasn’t undone by the intellectual, bullying Archie—my school had its share of brutal manipulators. And I’d had my run-ins with real-live meanie nuns. For me, the most brilliant angle of Cormier’s multi-faceted, near-perfect gem of a YA was the fact that no matter how chaotic, how insufferable Jerry Renault’s life became, he still had. To go. To school. Had to show up and endure whatever fresh pain and humiliation lay in store for him. Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, Jerry Renault had to adapt a stance, and from that stance, just deal. And Cormier knew that like no other author I had ever read before.

The unique conundrum of the Young Adult novel, the one unalterable plot point of the genre, is that you can’t quit high school. As in: you can’t be promoted or fired or relocated or get saved by a Sabbatical, or even—except in the most rare of instances—just take a semester off. In order to survive, you need to figure out your strongest sense of self, and kick that self out the door into another day, every single day, until you get your mortarboard.

In my own book, The Julian Game, where the online bullies are anonymous and home has ceased to be a respite from the daily grind, my protagonist, Raye, is in the same predicament, and that mortarboard feels very far away, indeed. But it would be impossible for me to write a YA novel about betrayal, revenge, violence, bullies, self-reliance, and the stance of the Peaceful Warrior without looking at the path Cormier has forged. While he chose a rough setting in which to place his diamond, and while the entire story unfolds without a single text message or Google search, any teen today could slip inside Jerry’s skin and know that it fits as easily and protects as thinly in 2010 as it did in 1974. It is the book’s relevance, above all, that continues to dazzle us, not just from the summit of any given Banned Books list, but from the apex of literary excellence.

– Adele Griffin, September 28th, 2010, Banned Books Week

Adele Griffin is a critically acclaimed author of novels for children and young adults. Be sure to check out Adele’s beautiful new website, the quirky-fun site for The Julian Game, and of course her novels for young adults! Thank you for sharing with us!


Adele’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Pantheon (1974)

Twisted

29 Sep

Sometimes I manage to start reading or listening to a book without having any idea what the story is about. This was the case for me with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted. All I knew when I inserted the first CD was who it was by, what it was called, what the cover looked like, and that it had made this year’s Banned Books List. Because the book was on this list I kept waiting for Tyler, the main character, to do something horrifying – open fire on his classmates, kill someone, rape someone, hurt himself, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tyler is a really solid kid. He has some pretty serious issues that he deals with throughout the course of this story, but I found myself more shocked that this text was challenged than by any of Tyler’s thoughts or actions.

Basically, Tyler is an average, overlooked teen who returns to school in the fall not so average anymore. He has a new bod due to a summer of manual labor and a new reputation due to the cause of said manual labor – getting busted for graffiti-ing the school. He attracts the attention of the beautiful Bethany Milbury whose brother is his biggest enemy and whose father is his dad’s boss. But his new found acceptance at school is short-lived as his life spirals out of control after an incident at a party leaves those around him with a twisted perception of who he is. As he struggles with questions of personal identity and what it means to be a man, he seeks a solution to his problems – a way out of the unsafe, alienation he feels at school and home. Anderson brings Tyler to life with his words, thoughts, and daydreams. Reader Mike Chamberlain offers a similarly convincing performance in the audiobook recording.

Twisted was withdrawn from classroom use at a high school in Kentucky along with Chris Crutcher’s Deadline, Jo Knowles’ Lessons From A Dead Girl, and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, with some parents contending that the books cover topics which are not suitable for a coed high school classroom, contain foul language, and are not intellectually challenging. I find that this last piece of reasoning is always added to the list as a sort of fail safe, putting the pressure on those defending the work to prove that the work is intellectually challenging. This same reasoning was used recently in the banning of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in Stockton, MO. I have yet to read the other books removed from the classroom in this Kentucky school, but what I can say about Twisted is that I do see its intellectual value. I worry that what those issuing complaints about intellectually challenging texts want is an excuse to rid classrooms of issue-filled young adult literature that touches on subjects they are uncomfortable with and a curriculum filled with classics alone. Classics have their value (not to mention their sex, drugs, violence, etc), but if we want to reach each and every student, we need more diversity in our reading than the “suitable” classics allow.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Reader: Mike Chamberlain
Publisher: Listening Library (2007), Viking Juvenile (2007)

Gossip Girl (books & show)

28 Sep

I met Cecily von Ziegesar (author of the Gossip Girl Series), at a Brooklyn Public Library event. The event consisted of me, my librarian friend, and Cecily getting our pictures taken (Maybe I was late for the actual event…hard to remember). This was right when The It Girl series came out, and Cecily seemed impressed that I could tell the series was “created” but not written by her. I mean, it said “created” on the cover, but I am guessing she hadn’t met too many adult fans who knew things like that. Or any adult fans really.

As a future school librarian we talk a lot about what is “appropriate” for a school library. Obviously, a public library does not and should not have the same restrictions. However, in my experience, very few school libraries have Gossip Girl. The books do have sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, eating disorders, and all the other things that lead to banning/purposeful exclusion. However, I really think they are well written. You can see a huge difference between what von Ziegsar wrote and what those that follow in her “creator” footsteps write (i.e. Gossip Girl: The Carlyles). She has major insights into NYC subcultures and landscapes, and a true voice that reports with accurate detail on the lives of both Upper Eastsiders and Brooklynites. The characters in the book are much more unique and interesting than they are in the show…well, at least the “poor” characters are more interesting. Also, Chuck acts as a one-note foil in the books, always perverted and carrying his pet monkey around.

The books also have one of my favorite YA characters of all time: Serena. In the books, everything is easy for her. She gets whatever she wants and never even has to think about it. It is just so relaxing to read about Serena and how everything is perfect for her. She never whines, or complains, or fails at anything. She never gets punished for any of her bad deeds either. Then Blair comes along and hates her for it, and the reader just feels bad for poor, eating disordered, always-suffering, virgin Blair. This is why Blair has such love/hate for Serena: in Blair’s world everything is calculated and planned, and usually a failure.

As for the show, I don’t think it represents the subcultures/various neighborhoods in NYC as well as the books. The characters are way more normal than they are in the book, and as I said before, the “poor” characters are hardly as interesting. Also, I think Serena gets punished a bit more in the show. Maybe TV isn’t ready for a woman (girl?) who always gets what she wants and never suffers the consequences. That said, I love the casting, and I love the show. It is a lot of fun to watch, but I do wish the whole Dan/Jenny/Vanessa trio was cooler. Even von Ziegsar agrees.

Also, can I just say that the producers of the Gossip Girl show need to incorporate the fact that Nate is a major stoner (like in the books). On the show, he goes around acting like a total stoner, but they never explain why. Instead his erratic behavior on the show comes across as naive and confusing.

Anyway, with the whole banning and exclusion from libraries thing… maybe the problem with Gossip Girl is that it gets too much media attention resulting from the show, and then the censors come out because they see some segment on the 10:00 news. Or they read some article about teenagers smoking cigarettes in the books (Dan!). BTW, when are all the gay plots coming to the TV show? Hilary Duff does NOT count.

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Don’t forget to enter your reviews of frequently banned or challenged books in our Banned Books Month giveaway!

Banned Books Film Festival

27 Sep

Be sure to check out Em’s guest post over at Mindful Musings’ Movie Cast Monday! Em has been tirelessly watching movies adapted from frequently challenged and banned books and has curated a Banned Books Week Film Festival you can watch in your very own home! Highlights from the children’s room to the adult shelves include movies based on Maurice Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, Stephen King’s Carrie, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

26 Sep

Arnold Spirit, Jr. (Junior) is my favorite literary character and he lives in the world of my favorite book, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In this semi-autobiographical tale, Alexie tells the story of 14 year-old Junior, a Spokane Indian growing up on a reservation in Washington State. After being suspended from school for throwing a book at a teacher, the teacher convinces him to leave the rez (“to take [his] hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.” p. 43). Junior enrolls in Reardan, a highly regarded high school 22 miles from the rez, where the student body is entirely white and the mascot is an Indian. The story of Junior’s life during his first year off rez at Reardan is told from Junior’s perspective via his cartoon-enhanced diary entries (artwork by Ellen Forney). Junior writes about a wide range of topics from racism, poverty, alcoholism, loss, family, bullying, not fitting in, girls, books, basketball, school, tradition, etc with thought-provoking language that at times made me laugh and at time made me cry (and occasionally did both).

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is filled with inspiring quote-worthy commentary; an almost overwhelming number of words from this book have made it into my goodreads favorite quotes. One of my favorite moments in the story was recently used as an example for why the book should be banned. This favorite moment of mine features a conversation between Gordy and Junior about the wonder of books and learning. As Gordy says, “‘The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know.” (p.97). He thinks that we should approach each book and life itself open to the idea that at any time we could get a metaphorical boner (can you guess which part of this those who ban/challenge the book have a problem with?).

In a recent banning of the book in Stockton, MO, one school board member claimed that the book contained too much profanity to be of value. A high school student who attended a forum on the book’s banning said “This book in a nutshell is my hope….It’s not about giving up. It’s about not letting people tell you you’re not worth it.” (News-Leader.com) How can a book of no value give a young person hope? How can a book of no value make me think and learn and feel?


I highly suggest this book to EVERYONE, even those who think writing about masturbation (enthusiastically yet ungraphically) warrants a book valueless. Junior’s friend Gordy believes that in order to really know a book, you have to read it three times. I wonder how many times those supporting the ban of the book read it?

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2007)

Don’t forget to enter your reviews of frequently banned or challenged books in our Banned Books Month giveaway!

Easy A

24 Sep

We caught Easy A last weekend. The movie is a fun, modern reimagining of The Scarlet Letter where a young woman tells a little lie re: a weekend tryst that never happened and is immediately labeled a slut/whore/tramp (you’ve seen the poster, you know the words). She decides to use her newfound reputation for good by helping a gay peer create his own fake straight identity via another pretend fling (with much theatrics this time around) to help him get through high school (so sad). From there her reputation as a trollop spirals out of control and she looks to live webcasting to set the record straight. Due to a lack of anything better for teenagers (and ourselves) in theaters at the moment, the film is awesome! The movie wasn’t perfect, but we loved it all the same. Here are some of the things that we loved about the movie and some of the things that didn’t quite work for us:

LOVES

  • Emma Stone: Super cute. Easy A is a teen movie that tells a young woman’s story and is really carried by the lead actress.
  • GossipGirlDan aka Devil/Woodchuck/Lobster Todd: He really surprised us in this one, playing a fairly similar character to his Gossip Girl role but making the character come across as new. The only downside here, he wasn’t around too much, but maybe that made it better? It’s kind of nice to have a rom-com with so little rom throughout.
  • Family Time: The family dynamic in Easy A is bizarre, trusting, caring, and fun. Plus it’s nice to see Stanley Tucci in a less Lovely-Bones-creepy role.
  • High School teachers say the strangest things.
  • 80s references: In particular, the Can’t Buy Me Love’s lawnmower un-getaway (so under-referenced) won us 80s kids over.
  • Dear God: Nora loved the lampooning of high school Christian groups (Nora thinks Amanda Bynes is way underrated; Em thinks the lampooning was a bit much but in the context of The Scarlet Letter, supposes it makes sense).
  • The continual reinforcement of canonical literature by the teen movie establishment. But really? No mention of Gary Oldman in The Scarlet Letter? That’s the only thing that made the movie bearable, NOT Demi Moore bath scenes.

NOT LOVES (not to be confused with hate)

  • Caricatures rather than characters: Some characters were a bit too much – (Em includes Amanda Bynes in this category, but Nora thinks she is awesome) but we were fine with it.
  • Perfect pair: Why are Olive and Todd not together already? This doesn’t really make sense.
  • Sex please: Olive never gets any kind of real sexual adventure a la typical teen boy movies.
  • Geek it up geeky: Olive could have been way geekier to begin with; we really can’t believe no one would notice her.  Couldn’t they have at least slapped some glasses on her face?
  • Montage-fail: While we liked the 80s references, the wanna be Pretty In Pink scene fell short (the most boring sewing montage ever).
  • Sweet(mean)heart?: We question the whole “I’m a victim so I can be mean and sarcastic thing”.  Is Olive actually kind of mean?  Maybe this is that whole “sass” thing people complain about with Hannah Montana.

Glee is back (just saying)

22 Sep


I have a guilty pleasure that I keep somewhat secret, until now. Yes, I kind of love (is that too strong of a word?) Glee. It’s of course a totally problematic show with it’s treatment of diversity (yup, each of those words links to a separate article re: Glee vs. meaningful diversity). Far less importantly, the song choices/stagings often leave me wanting more (by more I mean like Hate On Me from Mercedes covering Jill Scott – can she just sing that every episode?). Regardless, it’s back and I’m sure I will watch it and cringe and feel annoyed and also kind of love (again, too strong?) it anyway.

Here are some of the highlights from last night’s Season 2 Premiere, “Auditions”:

  • “Fashion has no gender” – oh Kurt, have I told you lately that I love you? Speaking of love, I’m also feeling his pince nez necklace.
  • I love when Sue and Schue are buds. Very fun – they have a funny rapport. Too bad Sue always tips the scale a little too far towards the inappropriate and sends Schue running.
  • Speaking of which I love the Beiste. She’s awesome. I hope her football team has a successful season and I kind of hope that she and Sue fall in looooooove along the way.
  • Ok, this is a weird one, but I appreciated the Glee PSAish commercials that replaced the straight up sell-you-junk ads in my Hulu-view. Maybe the Glee kids can convince some hesitant readers to read. Though don’t think I didn’t notice the ads in disguise. I teach media literacy people! You can’t pull one over on me!
  • Rachel’s bangs – yes, I have bangs jealousy of anyone who can pull them off.
  • “Wait, kids don’t like it when I rap?” No, Mr. Schue. We don’t. Please ask, Finn and Artie to stop it already too. Y’all make me feel uncomfortable.
  • Mike’s dance into the arms (lips) of Tina at Asian Camp was hilarious. They were so serious about their artistry and the campers were not at all interested until their inappropriate counselor make-out.

And some low points:

  • False accusations of inappropriate touching of a student made into a joke – yeah, that’s not funny.
  • Mike Chang may get to finally speak now that he’s dating Tina, but it sucks that his character starts off his newfound potential characterhood as being worthy of dating simply because he has nice abs and isn’t Artie (the bad boyfriend). Hopefully Tina and us the viewers will learn soon that he is much more than that.
  • Speaking of the bad boyfriend, part of what supposedly makes Artie a bad boyfriend is that all he ever wants to do is watch Coming Home, a love story about a love affair between a woman and a paralyzed Vietnam vet. I find this movie reference forced and unrealistic (disabled teens I’m pretty sure consume media that is not solely centered around their disability). I can understand why Tina wouldn’t want to watch that movie multiple times, but I also don’t buy that Artie would, even if he relates to the Jon Voight character or hopes that Tina will relate to the Jane Fonda character. And the whole “use my body as a medieval battering ram” thing? Are they trying to piss of the disability community? Are they even listening?

What I’m most looking forward to this season? Love for Kurt! That’s what the rumors say and with a certain new-on-the-scene quarterback. I wonder if Finn’s jealousy of his replacement on the field and competition on the stage will increase when Kurt turns his attention the new guy’s way?

What did you think of last night’s episode? What are you hoping for or dreading this season? And also, has anyone read the books? I don’t think I’m going to go there, but I am curious.

Identical

19 Sep

On the surface the Gardella family is picture perfect. Dad is a district court judge, mom is running for a Senate seat, and identical twin sisters Raeanne and Kaeleigh both do well in school.  But as the story unfolds we learn that beneath the surface things are not as they seem.  Mom is emotionally withdrawn and never at home except for the select photo op and Daddy is an alcoholic who has been sexually abusing Kaeleigh since she was 9 years old.  The twins deal with their parents’ betrayal in different ways; Raeanne numbs herself from life’s pain with drugs and booze and uses sex to try to find power in her relationships with men, while Kaeleigh cuts herself to feel control and binges to discourage her father’s advances.

This one’s intense!  Basically the young women in this story deal with just about every serious issue that a parent hopes and dreams that their child will never have to deal with.  I have to say that I generally pride myself on catching any and all signs of foreshadowing, on not being utterly surprised by plot developments, but this one had me with my jaw dropped to the floor by the end.   The story is written in free verse poetry told in alternating voices between Raeanne and Kaeleigh.  The reader of the audiobook, Laura Flanagan – who has performed Hopkins’ work before – brings the characters to life, giving the twins contrasting voices and making their verses come across as extremely natural and everyday.

Hopkins’ books are frequently challenged as they deal with serious and sometimes dark subject matter and are aimed at a young adult audience.  In the past two years Hopkins has seen invitations withdrawn from a planned visit to an Oklahoma school to the recent controversy with the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, TX. Last year she lent a poem to Banned Books Week.  I can understand why some parents want to shelter their kids from the scary-scary that inhabits Hopkins’ work and even why some kids would not want to read her work. Identical is really hard to read – depressing really – but I don’t think that is a legitimate reason to ban a work of literature (let alone if this book were plain old smut).  And the truth is that as hard as it was to make it through Identical, it was a unique experience that I was glad to partake in and I highly suggest the book to anyone able to deal with the dark.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Reader: Laura Flanagan
Publisher: High Bridge Audio (2008)

Future Treasures

17 Sep

Book Blogger Appreciation Week has come to an end and we are so happy to have participated this year! BBAW has been a valuable opportunity for us to learn about, visit, and collaborate with other book bloggers. We especially enjoyed meeting Meredith and Jeannine, our new BBFs (best blogger friends?) via the interview swap and sharing our appreciation for several of our favorite book blogs/bloggers out there.

Today’s suggested topic asked us to look to the future year and what our goals are for blogging. One of our main goals is to continue connecting with and collaborating with other book bloggers. We hope to cross paths with fellow bloggers at book festivals, signings, and conferences and to find ways to work with one another via Internet as well! We are so grateful to be a part of this community! We also will work hard to keep up the tempo of our postings; BBAW had us posting daily, a frequency which we rarely achieve during an average week but that we hope to move towards in the near future. And we plan to continue posting interviews with authors, talking about YA lit pop culture connections, and reading/reviewing outstanding YA literature.

Here is our list of some of the “future treasures” that we are looking forward to (not all of these are new/upcoming releases, but we’re excited all the same):

  • Beastly by Alex Flinn (finally reading the book and also catching the upcoming film release)
  • The Hunger Games movie (they need to cast this soon so that we can start complaining about the poor casting choices)
  • Tyrell by Coe Booth
  • My Little Phony: A Clique Novel by Lisi Harrison
  • The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
  • Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
  • New season of Gossip Girl
  • Matched by Ally Condie
  • Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Trash by Andy Mulligan
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Yummy by G. Neri (Randi DuBurke, illustrator)
  • The Runaways (graphic novel series) movies
  • Finally reading some Cassandra Clare and Sarah Dessen (choices choices)
  • Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (both installments of the film adaptation)
  • Banned Books Week (have you checked out our giveaway?)
  • And following the ridiculous number of amazing blogs that were added to our readers this week!

What are you looking forward to in the near or distant future? What YA books, movies or TV are you most excited for?

Forgotten Treasure

16 Sep


It’s day four of Book Blogger Appreciation Week – what a week it has been so far! Monday and Wednesday Em blogged about some of the many blogs that she trusts to always be there for her with great book suggestions and engaging commentary, Tuesday we swapped interviews with our new blogger friends Jeannine (Write On) and Meredith (The Librarian Next Door), and today’s suggested topic gets us back to the books…

Sure we’ve all read about Freedom and Mockingjay but we likely have a book we wish would get more attention by book bloggers, whether it’s a forgotten classic or under marketed contemporary fiction. This is your chance to tell the community why they should consider reading this book!

Em: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok is one of the best books that I have read in recent years. This coming-of-age story of a young recently immigrated Chinese woman is thought-provoking and rich in complex, well-developed characters. While Kwok is getting some attention on adult book blogs, I think the YA book blogger community should embrace her work – there is a lot of crossover potential here. The themes addressed and Kwok’s writing all seem accessible to and valuable for younger readers as well as adults. I will be reviewing Girl in Translation next week; feel free to come back for more on this one!


Nora: I have said it before, but I must say it again – Stuck In Neutral is way underrated. Shawn is happy, loves his family, and lives a full life, but he is trapped inside a non-functioning body. A doctor told his parents that he has the intelligence of an infant, and he has no way to communicate otherwise, as he is completely paralyzed. In addition, Shawn is filled with worry that his father is going to murder him, as his father incorrectly believes Shawn lives a life of suffering. The book is thought-provoking, and challenges many assumptions about people with disabilities.