wayfarers all

children's literature, childhood and culture (and anything else that strikes my fancy).

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Location: pittsburgh, U.S. Outlying Islands

carbon-based life form: thinking, reading and gardening. New College alum; current grad student writing a dissertation. I specialize in children's literature, media, and culture, and queer/gender studies, with a strong interest in 19th century British literature and culture. I like history, a lot.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Traveling Pants

I did a whirlwind weekend reading of Ann Brashares' Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Second Summer of the Sisterhood.

What did i think of these fluff-for-the-younger-set books?

I don't know. Honestly. At times, i found the girliness of the books - the worrying about being fat, the fretting over hair and clothes and boys - extremely distasteful, especially since Brashares lets us know early in the first book that all four girls are fairly slim and attractive, especially jock Bridget and artist/introvert/beauty Lena. the incessant optimism kind of irked me too - even when Bad Things Happen, the girls learn Valuable Life Lessons and come to appreciate their friends even more!

BUT - that said, i zipped through the two novels in less than 48 hours (not really record time, i know), but i found them compelling enough to not set them aside for other projects (like reconfiguring my study, which i did tonight. i'm running out of Good books to read).

the shifting perspective of the first book really appealed to my narratological interest. especially since the four girls were so distinctly isolated from one another - in greece, in mexico, in dc, in south carolina. i also must admit i like the setting - the girls' hometown is DC (actually, i think it might be bethesda but i'm not sure) and since i spent three years in the district, it was nice to run into familiar places (the nine thirty club!).

Isolating the girls this way also helped illuminate how very different from each other they are. in this sense, brashares has done quite a nice job of character-creation: four girls, similar enough you can believe in their friendship, different enough to keep things interesting and give them distinct personalities.

overall: i'm going to look for the third installment as soon as i can get myself to the library (possibly tomorrow, especially if i can make myself go over to school to swim). i'm also going to check out the Traveling Pants movie coming out this week - though i am braced for disappointment, the film/lit adaptation class i took this spring has given me some much-needed looseness of perspective on films "based upon" books i've enjoyed.

traveling pants + sequels = great summer reading!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

In Memoriam

i received terrible news late last week about a wonderful member of my listserv: Karen Sue Simonetti passed away.

I never met Karen Sue except through emails and the list, but i loved her sense of humor, her enthusiasm, her willingness to help with any and all requests i might have. late last fall i briefly emailed her offlist about georges perec's novel W, or the memory of childhood. i am crushed i never got the chance to have a full email discussion of it - i had been looking forward to hearing her thoughts.
She enlisted her partner from holland for dutch/flemish pronunciation help regarding a name in a novel. she signed off her emails with an ellipsis then a brief description of her current state, mood, occupation. I will miss her voice more than i can explain to myself or to others.

The Chicago Tribune obituary is here. Karen Sue's amazon.com reviews as the nonesuch librarian are here

Please consider giving to the organizations listed in the obit, or any other literacy or book-related organization you like, in Karen Sue's memory. In the meantime, or if you can't give, please make sure to spend some extra time reading good YA novels in her honor.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

unsatisfactory endings

i've read several pretty good YA (or YA-ish) novels this past week, but many of them have conclusions that i found pretty roundly unsatisfying.
The Offending Books:
Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; Spinelli's Stargirl; Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts; Neal Shusterman's The Schwa Was Here and David Chotjewitz' Daniel Half-Human and the Good Nazi.
all good books, for the most part - I found Choldenko's narrator really engaging, and the setting (1930s Alcatraz) pretty compelling. A strange coincidence - both Choldenko and Haddon feature autistic teenagers in their novels. Haddon's, of course, is remarkable because it is narrated by the autistic teenager in question, and as I think I've mentioned before, I'm a sucker for unusual, unreliable, naive or otherwise peculiar narrators.
But somehow the ends of all these novels just didn't do it for me. I can't be more precise than that, really - just nothing happened the way i wanted it to. All felt fairly abrupt, in a strange way that left me thinking: "what am i supposed to do with this?"
which may be the point, after all, but i don't really think so. The conclusions in them all felt too contrived and tidy but abrupt, like the point of the book was everything but the end; but then in all of them too i felt there was a Message i was supposed to get, and it didn't quite all hang together.
I'll look for more from Choldenko, because i was pretty caught up by her plot and style. Spinelli is kind of a no-brainer; i know he's great, and i need to psyche myself up for Wringer, which i recently acquired from a goodwill shop. i have real trouble reading about cruelty to animals, so i know Wringer will be a challenge.

The Schwa was perhaps the most unsatisfying at the end (other than Stargirl) - i loved the book right up until the last few pages. and then i felt really frustrated; i felt a real sense of loss (partly empathy for Antsy, but partly independently).

I need a bookclub or something, but one that plows through these books at my rate - so i can get some others' input on these books. i'm really feeling puzzled about Stargirl, and i'd really love to know what other readers thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

i don't know what to think

today i read stargirl by jerry spinelli. i loved maniac mcgee; milkweed was pretty good (actually, milkweed was brilliant, narratologically speaking. i love a good naive narrator. spinelli and christopher paul curtis are the world masters at naive narrators).

stargirl is - what? i don't know. i don't know how i feel about it. it has the epic/talltale feel that maniac mcgee has, in places, but then it's narrated in the first person (15 years retrospectively, we learn at the end). so the epic tone feels a little discordant.
spinelli is obviously making a point about valuing individuality. i mean, the back of the book says so, and the text isn't much less explicit. but what to do with the book's conclusion? i didn't feel uplifted in the least; instead, i felt depressed and cheated.

i also wonder why there are so many YA books that valorize the oddball - usually female - character. she doesn't wear makeup, rides bikes and eats vegetarian food, wears funky old vintage dresses and strange (or no) shoes. she sings, she dances, she acts. she has no regard for what those are her think.
stargirl, of course, first is loved then slammed for her individuality.

the creeping aftereffects of a forceful personality appear at the novel's end (in a very similar way to maniac mcgee's influence on his community).

but have we really embraced individuality? i always feel peculiar when characters like stargirl appear - because in The Real World (of high schools and anywhere else), people like that are not valorized and celebrated. often they are barely tolerated. stargirl's insularity and naivete are really difficult to manage in the real world. so i wonder how these characters "translate" - are they extremes from which we can place ourselves? Like, you don't have to be as out there as stargirl, but maybe you'd like to, say, bring your guitar to school and serenade people - go for it! or just wear funky old prairiegirl skirts.

i guess maybe i don't get the message of Stargirl, aside from stargirl is cool and everyone else, especially leo, is a fool for trying to get her to conform. but that doesn't offer me much to take away into my real life, though i feel like the book would like me take something away.

perhaps this will be one of those books that percolates around in my brain for awhile and makes itself meaningful in some way.

Question: to whom would you give stargirl? a person like stargirl, a person like leo, a person like hillari kimble?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

i love hilary mckay

last week i was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of hilary mckay's next casson family book, permanent rose. i read it the way i read all of mckay's books - in one sitting, quickly, getting thoroughly absorbed in her characters and plot and style.
hilary mckay, for those who don't know, is one of the best writers i've ever read. she's wonderful - witty and true and symapthetic and manages to craft the most interesting, believable characters. though her families and characters tend toward the unconventional or downright odd, they are still completely believable and real. her exiles books are marvellous, though i've yet to get my hands on the first (the exiles). because i'm a student, i don't have much money and for some reason i have yet to comprehend, i'm stingy with buying books for myself. i've gotten better about this in recent months, but it's still a rare treat to actually buy new books (used is another story altogether). mckay is english, and the exiles books seem a bit tricky to get here in the states (at least where i've looked). and then online is pricier because of shipping. but the two other exiles books - the exiles at home and the exiles in love are both phenomenal.

as are the casson family books - saffy's angel, indigo's star and now permanent rose.

permanent rose picks up more or less where indigo's star left off, following the story of rose's relationship with american tom, now that he's returned to the states. rose is an exquisite character, deep and bratty and intelligent and creative and stubborn, and i love that this book delves more deeply into her character. one of my major - or only - criticisms of the casson books has been bill, the family's absentee-artist father. permanent rose tackles bill more thoroughly and seriously, and resolves many of the issues i had with him.
aside from all the wonderfully mckayish stylistic choices, i think what i loved best about this book is the depth and realness and consideration it gives to rose (who is nine) around her love for tom. mckay's books always take their child/teenager protagonists seriously without feeling heavyhanded or didactic, and i cannot praise this enough.
i will most certainly be re-reading permanent rose (and probably saffy's angel and indigo's star) in the next few weeks. they're just that good.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

sweet valley blog

I've been wondering lately if anyone still reads the Sweet Valley books - I see sweet valley twins books in thrift stores and library sales all the time, but not as often do i see the longer more YA sweet valley high novels. If these books are not read any longer, what has replaced them? i need to learn more about contemporary teen fluff fiction.

i'm contemplating reading all of the sweet valley high books - all of them - over the summer. just to see if i can. and blogging it every step of the way!!!!

i'm also getting a lot more academically interested in adolescence - I have been for, wow, almost a year - and teen pop fiction has a legitimate place in that interest.

i would like to know if anyone does still read these books - or that other standby of my younger youth, the babysitters' club series - and if not, what are The Kids reading these days to get their serial fiction fix?

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