DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jul 8 2011

ShareReads: Read any teen books lately?

by Amanda L

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

I just finished reading the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. My husband and I listened to the first in the series, Hunger Games last month. If you are not familiar with the series, it is set in the future. The main characters, Katniss, Peeta, and Gayle, all hail from district 12 of the country Panem. Panem is located where currently North America is located. The basic premise of the series is that the government would like to punish and control people, to prevent them from rebelling. Each district selects a boy and girl randomly to participate in the hunger games. During the hunger games, the players fight until the death until the remaining survivor wins the games.

While we were listening to the Hunger Games, both my husband and I kept thinking that this was a horrible premise of a book, whether teen or adult. I mean, what is good about teens fighting each other to the death? In any case, we couldn’t stop listening to the book. It is captivating. The author writes the characters  in such a way that you care whether they live or die. The story moves fast, and you begin to find yourself rooting for a specific character. Are you team Gayle, Peeta or Katniss?

There has been much discussion lately about the dark themes currently appearing in Young Adult (teen) literature. Two articles, both pro and con,  have been written about this. The first, Darkness to Visible, was published in the Wall Street Journal. The author of this article believes Young Adult literature is running rapid with violence, depravity and abuse. The second, written in response, was called, Has young adult fiction become too dark?, and was published in Salon magazine.

Whether you believe Young Adult literature is too dark or tackles some deep subjects, the teens are reading. I came across an article from Entertainment Weekly about the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  Thirteen Reasons Why is about suicide. Hannah Baker has already committed suicide before the book begins. She has made thirteen cassette tapes to send to the thirteen people she believes contributed to her death.

The article points out how a book can open a person’s perspective and create empathy for others. The author, Jay Asher, stated that he has received several e-mails from teens who were contemplating suicide. He also has received e-mails from teens who realized after reading the book  that what they say or don’t say, and the way they act towards others can have a lasting impact on someone’s decisions or outlook on life.

Have you read any teen books lately? What do you think about this topic?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan July 8, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Let’s start with the now-infamous Wall Street Journal article: The mom in question, who was so appalled by the YA fare on the shelves, was at a Barnes & Noble, a for-profit bookstore. Did this mom go to her daughter’s school library or local public library to consult with the licensed librarians who specialize in YA lit for any recommendations? No. Did she use NoveList for recommendations? No. She went to Barnes & Nobel, which is largely staffed by college coeds. Probably not the best place to go for reader’s advisory.

Second, how does The Hunger Games compare with the required reading in high schools? If you listen to the entire trilogy on audio, you will be treated to a delightful interview with the author, Suzanne Collins, at the end of Mockingjay, in which she talks about her basis for the idea: Greek & Roman mythology. The same mythology that high school students are reading in their English & Latin classes (and middle school students, for that matter). DeKalb County’s freshmen are regularly treated to such delights as Oedipus Rex (dude — you just slept with your mom!) and Medea (she makes Casey Anthony look like a sweetheart!). In one of the follow-up articles to the original WSJ article, teens are encouraged to read more uplifting literature, like To Kill a Mockingbird. What’s more uplifting that rape & lynching in a racist Jim Crow-era South? Is the “real literature” any less violent or salacious that today’s YA lit? Uh, not really.

I remember when the Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo & Juliet came out. I was in grad school, but I was sitting in the theater with a bunch of high school girls who had been reading Shakespeare’s play in school. In the end, they were all in tears. One girl was absolutely sobbing beyond control, and her friends had to pretty much carry her out of the theater. Among the comments I overheard from the girls was, “Wow — I didn’t realize how violent is was when I read it.” I have heard that sentiment echoed by English teachers many times since then. When students read the words on paper, “Oh, I am slain,” and they’re talking about swords, they don’t get just how violent that play really is. Even watching West Side Story, with all it’s song & dance & finger snapping, doesn’t get that point across. But by using guns in place of swords & daggers, Baz Luhrman showed the violence of R+J in way that hadn’t been done before. Seriously — that’s a violent play! And we let freshmen read it! No — we MAKE freshmen read it. Compare that to the YA lit that people are currently bashing.

A.S. King, author of Please Ignore Vera Dietz, had some great things to say on this topic in her Printz Honor acceptance speech. The text of the Printz speeches should be released in the July issue of Booklist. For now, the 2010 speeches may be viewed on their website at (Monstrumentalist, anyone?) At any rate, King talked about the fact that when she was a teen, she watched her mother die & be resuscitated back to life, only to be told that her mother would like not make it very long. She talked about how traumatic this experience was for her, and that this trauma ultimately led her to write Vera Dietz. Her point was that teens ARE sometimes dealing with horrible events in their own lives, and reading can help them work through their own issues.

How many teens are are literally doing battle in the arena for food like Katniss? Probably not a whole lot. But there are teens living in homeless shelters who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Perhaps The Hunger Games can actually provide some escapism for those teens. #YASaves!

Susan July 8, 2011 at 1:31 PM

And for light & fluffly YA fare, try this:
http://www.thisisteen.com/

Kimberly R. July 8, 2011 at 3:50 PM

After the initial shock of the basic premise, and the illogical economic structure my boyfriend keeps pointing out when I recap for him, I found the Hunger Games series thought provoking and challenging young readers on many levels. As a society, we seem to be coddling our children in one second and then the next exposing them to age-inappropriate music and movies. Suzanne Collins pushes her audience to discuss difficult moral topics while introducing concepts of government and basic survival information. How many children know that potatoes grow underground? Let alone that other food sources might be hiding under their feet?

Parents do need to monitor their children’s exposure to the world. And yes, I do believe that includes reading with your children so you can have valuable discussions as you go.

Doret C July 9, 2011 at 12:35 PM

I love the Hunger Games Trilogy. When I was a bookseller I sold it like candy. Though at times it was difficult to convince adults that it wasn’t as violent as it sounds. Its was more of strategical as opposed all out blunt force. That was much of the beauty of the book, because it kept it going.

Kimberly I found the economic structure very logical. The captial kept all the districts below the poverty level, forcing them to work their particular gross product for mere survival not a profit. This unbalanced with goods has been going on forever. – Diamonds in Africa, or closer to home citrus in Florida. (I don’t know what citrus workers are paid now but I know in the past this with a big problem)

I am convinced writers who don’t normally delve into YA write articles about it because they know it will draw attention. Anyone who compares Myracle’s Shine to Blume’s middle grade novels knows nothing about YA and is not looking to give anything of value.

I was baffled by so much in that article. That I couldn’t take it seriously. I don’t think writers with little to no knowledge of any other genre would be allowed to write articles on said genre.
If a writer is going to get paid, they should know what they are talking about. Worse then Gurdon’s point is her dated and misinformation. And judging from her book recs on the side, she wouldn’t have been able to help that mother either.

The YA Gurdon’s refering are simply realistic fiction. Every style of fiction serves a purpose. Sometimes readers want to get lost in another world they read Sci fi .

Realistic fiction readers are grounded in their world or someone elses allowing for a connection. There’s not like losing yourself in a novel that feels close at hand. Every reader should be given that chance no matter their age.

Shermie Alexie response to the WSJ article http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/06/09/why-the-best-kids-books-are-written-in-blood/?fb_ref=article_top&fb_source=home_oneline

Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and Asher’s Thriteen Reasons Why are very different and both top notch YA.

Dea Anne M July 9, 2011 at 2:29 PM

The New Yorker ran what I thought was an interesting article on YA dystopian literature and focused primarily on The Hunger Games trilogy.http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2010/06/14/100614crat_atlarge_miller The author’s premise is that dystopian novels for teens serve a diffferent purpose than those written for adults and they are not meant to function in an adominatory capacity so much as they are meant to reflect, in an allegorical sense, certain aspects of adolescent reality. One shouldn’t read The Hunger Games with a critical eye as to the likliness of the future presented in the book so much as see it as a “fever-dream allegory of the adolescent social experience.”

Also, and it’s really unrelated, but as a former bookseller, I find it very hard to believe that a Barnes and Noble would have nothing but “dark” fiction for teens. Any reasonably stocked book store will have a large selection of books for teens that are funny or sweet novels that deal with adolescent life, friends, or family in an “undark” way. If this purported “shopper” couldn’t find anything suitable in a B&N, than the obvious solution would be to try and find an independent bookstore (and they do still exist in Bethesda, MA where this sad incidentsupposedly took place) and ask for help. Professional bookseller know the books that they are selling and will have many useful recommendations. I know I sound a little heated here, but honestly, the WSJ article struck me mainly as the sort of alarmist opinion piece that shows up in every decade and the message is that everything with today’s teens is going to pieces fast and we need to get it back under our (adult) control.

That said, I just finished Mockingjay last week and loved it! I think this is a very well-written and thought provoking series.

Apple July 10, 2011 at 3:07 PM

Do teen books need a rating like movies, music, and video games? Not sure- but may give us parents a “heads up at first glance”

Doret C July 11, 2011 at 11:34 AM

Apple – sometimes books do have ratings. Though if your unsure your best bet is to ask a librarian, teacher or bookseller. Also there are a lot of great blogs that reveiw YA lit. Many are run by librarians, teachers and booksellers http://www.kidlitosphere.org/bloggers/

When I was a bookseller I made it a point to have a lot of YA books in my repertoire that would be okay for the 11 up readers that read above their grade.

But of course every reader is different. Though in the case of concerns about book content parents differences matter just as much. If a parent was worried about content I never suggested a book I hadn’t read. Too much of a risk. One of my biggest fears as a bookseller was that a parent would come back upset that I suggested an inappropriate book for their child. Lucky that never happened.

Doret C July 11, 2011 at 11:41 AM

There’s a great diversity challenge going. One library could win over 50 great YA books. I would LOVE to see a Dekalb library win. This system has a great selection of diverse YA titles. Many of the books I read and review I get from I get from dekalb library.

Thanks for the great selection and Please consider entering

http://www.diversityinya.com/2011/06/diversify-your-reading/

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