Saturday, September 27, 2008

YA Lit - Week 6

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going - Motherless Troy lives with his ex-marine father and jock brother in New York City. Self-described as 300 pounds, Troy feels friendless and alone and lives in fear of the laughter he feels whenever others look at him. One day, while contemplating jumping in front of a subway train, but afraid the incident will be seen as funny by others, Troy meets Curt, a legendary semi-homeless drug abusing guitar playing teenager. Troy somehow ends up agreeing to form a band with Curt, even though Troy hasn't played drums since junior high school. The story then slowly shows us Troy learning to see himself, and those around him, as much more than the summation of their lives. Troy isn't just a fat kid, Curt isn't just a junkie, his father isn't just a leatherneck, and his brother isn't the popular self confident jock he appears to be. This is a funny, sad, ultimately hopeful book about a boy who learns to look at people as more than just their simple charactertistics. It helps that Going makes the action so funny at times. A cut above the usual YA lit novel.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers - Set up like it is being written as a film script, this book about a boy standing trial for murder (accused of being a lookout in a fatal drugstore robbery) deliberately obscures the narrator's guilt or innocence. I can imagine this book being used as a discussion point in classes - mock trials, the role of racism in assumptions of guilt or innocence, the position of the young black male in our society - all good fodder for high school debate, social studies, etc. The book is a fast read, and I think it would appeal to its target audience. As an adult, I felt a bit manipulated by the book, but that doesn't stop me from thinking it would be an excellent tool in the hands of a good teacher. Myers is a solid writer, and his ideas in this book are well executed.

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson - A picture book tribute to her family's female line, Woodson gives the history of her family through their tradition of making "Show Ways," quilts pieced together by slaves and reputed to provide slaves with the map - and the hope - to run away for the north. Woodson is a poetic writer, and the design of the book is beautiful. The colors are bright and the artwork vivid and appealing. That said, I'm not sure how much appeal this book would have to a YA audience. It will be interesting to hear the discussion of this book.

Skim by Mariko Tamaki - Kim (called Skim by her classmates) is a lonely girl dabbling in wicca and angst who attends an all-girls high school in Canada. She develops a crush, which seems at least partially returned, on the artsy, bohemian English teacher, but falls into depression when the teacher retreats from her. At the same time, the school is overtaken by a relentlessly upbeat organization formed to combat teen depression and suicide after a classmate's ex-boyfriend kills himself. The art in this graphic novel is somber and weirdly beautiful in places, although the faces of the characters are often disotorted and strange. Might appeal to outsider girls, and those who chafe under the pressure to be upbeat and optimistic, even in the midst of adolescence.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - A sometimes heartbreaking and often funny story of a boy growing up as the first generation American born child of Taiwanese immigrants rendered in graphic novel format, this often scathing book splits the main character into an American blond side and a terrible stereotyped Chinese character (simultaneously brilliant and ridiculous, with a queue, a silly hat, black satin slippers and bad manners). At the same time, Yang intertwines the story with the mythological story of the Monkey King. Great to look at, this book would appeal to children who feel different or singled out because of their ethnic background, or for those who feel left out for some other reason they can't control (red hair, an accent, etc.). Very well done, funny, and easy to read.

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