Tuesday, September 9, 2008

YA Books - Week 2

Hey, it's read the classics week in YA Lit! Hooray!

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton - A teen written book about teens. I think this book has stood the test of time despite its flaws. It is amazing to think that a teen had the insight to write this, even with its sometimes very obvious themes, images, and characters. Love the names - if anything shows that a teen wrote it, the names do that.... Ponyboy, Sodapop, etc. Interesting to think that the crowd in one book (16th Summer) could be the villains in the other (The Outsiders). I wish I'd read this as a teen. I think I really would have liked it. Today some of its conventions feel cliched partly because some of them were already conventions and partly because it has had such an impact that it has become part of our cultural baggage. I really LIKE that there is no complicating romance for Ponyboy. Too bad our teachers were too busy cramming Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Hawthorne and D.H. Lawrence down our throats, even though we couldn't possibly have the life knowledge to understand them.

The Pigman by Paul Zindel - A book that seems almost innocent now in the antics that the teens get into. Trashing a house and drinking? Child's play! Interesting to think that these kids aren't far from legal drinking age in this book, and that teen drinking was probably more acceptable then than it is today, i.e. had to be less hidden. Lorraine and John feel like regular teens to me. Bored, confused, not much guidance and they disreagard the guidance they do get. They're not super smart or dumb, they have no huge crises or handicaps. They're just ordinary run of the mill kids. It is still in print, so it must still speak to today's kids.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cromier - another classic of the genre I managed to not ever encounter as a teen, and I think this one has been on the top ten of the most challenged books pretty much from its inception. The reason given is most likely its depiction of the corrupt Catholic brothers who run the school, but I think the REAL reason in many cases may be its almost unremittingly bleak view of the world. This is a hard, brutal book, and the good guy doesn't just lose, he GIVES UP, which is practically the worst thing you can do in our culture; after all, William Wallace may have died at the end of Braveheart, but he died shouting "FREEDOM!" How could we let teens see Jerry go out in the ambulance urging his friend not to fight the system, not to think for himself? As much as I don't want to live in the world this book depicts, I fear I do. I really think this book shouldn't be banned - it should be required (which actually probably is the kiss of death for getting kids to read it - maybe we should go on banning it.)

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte - I like sports books. I like their conventions, I like their action, I like their style. This story of a boy who finds boxing for the wrong reasons, then pursues it for what we might call the right reasons, then gives it up because he hasn't got the killer instinct is a good, solid sports book. The action is compact, descriptive, and propulsive. Our main character Alfred is likable, human, and pretty real. The surrounding characters, while sometimes not entirely round, feel like they could be real. I think this would be a terrific book for the older boy (maybe 14/15 and up) who likes sports books. The action will keep the reader who doesn't care about nuance, while the detail and emotions will appeal to the reader who wants more than action.

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block - Oh dear, I hated it, I really did. I understood it more and found it less annoying when I viewed it as a contemporary fairy tale, as one review suggested, but I still didn't like it. I think the thing that most annoyed me was that back in the day when this was being conceived and written and published (1989), I was a YA. I knew girls who wanted to live like Weetzie Bat in a kind of Cyndi Lauper/Madonna/new wave hippy kind of world with 50's tulle party dresses and black eyeliner and blue hair and torn fishnet stockings where everyone was cool and you could define your life by your cool car with the name and everything was surfacey and glittery and cool, like a video by a really edgy cool alt college rock band. And frankly, most of their lives were a hell of a lot more like Colleen's in Stoner and Spaz (see Week 5) than Weetzie Bat's. I hated thinking of those girls getting hold of this book and thinking somewhere in our nasty little Chocolate War world, there might be a way to live like this. And what does that say about me? Cynical, unhopeful, doom-saying, disapproving, bad-tempered naysayer!!!

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