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.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

may i recommend...?

Richie's Picks has become one of my favorite sources for YA recommendations. Richie - who I have never met, though i did physically see him at the ALA convention in Atlanta several years ago - is clearly one smart cookie who knows kids. i also confess to liking his politics very much - nice lefty liberal progressive green peaceful sort that i am.

anyway, Richie's Picks has lists of picks from the past few years along with reviews and some other bits and pieces. i've culled a long list of titles from richie's picks for my summer reading, and i haven't been disappointed yet.

so: plug for richie's picks, and thanks to richie for doing what he does, and doing it so well.

doing it - wow!

on my listserv awhile back, there was quite a hubbub over melvin burgess's YA novel Doing It. which is about a bunch of teenagers and all the sex they are (or are not) having. when the cover blurb of a book advises you to get past the smutty parts, you know something's a bit sketchy....

BUT: i was surprised - really almost shocked - at just what a good book it is. the first maybe fifty pages is unrelentingly smutty (what a good word that is), and i was starting to feel anxious that there was no point to the book. several list members had commented that it was great to finally have a book that was very honestly sexual from a teenage boy's perspective, and i think i'll agree, though since i never was a teenage boy i can't speak to the book's veracity.

Jonathon and Deborah's subplot was the one that won me over. Ben's wistfulness and kindness was touching; Dino's angst over his family situation was interestingly handled, but Jon and Deborah - wow. I give burgess major props for including a "plump" girl in sex scenes, and having her plumpness be sexy to the boy involved. and not just any skunky skanky boy - jon's shyish but otherwise doesn't seem to be insanely geeky or hideous. jon likes deborah's curviness, and deborah's brief narration gives us the sense that, though she wishes she looked like a magazine model, she is tolerably comfortable with her own plumpish body - which is BLISS to encounter in a female teenage character.

i was also oddly touched (really, like moved to tears) by the scene where one of the boys (maybe Dino, but i can't recall, and the book's back at the library) asks the girl he's with if he can look at her genitalia. she replies yes, but it's gross; he looks, and is amazed, finds her and her parts beautiful, and tells her so.

something about this was just phenomenal to me - women and girls generally have such shame about their bodys, and this is the privatest, innermost tucked away part - but also the most public, in a way. the boy's reaction - wonder at the beauty of the girl's privates - is fantastic. and, i think, realistic.

so: at the outset, doing it looks pretty repulsive. the cover of my edition, sort of red and black and white cartoonish drawings, are pretty repulsive. but the book itself is truly astounding. and i've gotten two more burgess books from the library - that's just how impressed with doing it i am.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

shifting my focus (?)

i've been studying children's literature academically and officially for kind of awhile now - since fall of 1998, to be precise. for most of that time, my focus has largely been on fiction for children up to roughly age 12 or 13. my "major work" thus far (the work surrounding my master's thesis) has been on JM Barrie: Peter Pan and a novel for adults called The Little White Bird. So-called "golden age" children's fiction has appealed most strongly to me.

But now i'm finding myself increasingly interested in the problems of young adult (YA) literature. I've been reading up a storm of YA novels, surprisingly; i used to really dislike the teen problem novel. i still dislike many of the more formulaic ones, but my curiosity is quite piqued by YA novels and YA culture, and issues surrounding the two.

I wonder if this is part of a larger shift in my academic interest? will i end up writing my dissertation on YA texts, not the semi-obscure late victorian fantasies i had imagined i'd work on? although i still have a burning desire to do something with Christina Rosetti's utterly alarming and wonderfully brilliant trio of short prose, Speaking Likenesses - and someday hopefully i'll be able to motivate myself to do so.

but YA novels - problems of audience, of address, of social pressures on and in the texts. representations of adolescence, adolescence as a social and biological and psychological phenomenon - this all appeals to me quite vastly at the moment, and has since last summer's chance catch of an NPR show on adolescence (featuring jeffrey eugenides and jonathan lethem).

my "problem," or the roadblock i construct for myself as a procrastination device and/or something else, is that i know virtually nothing about adolescent lit. i haven't done any particular reading or studying on the subject; i couldn't tell you who works especially on YA novels. i'm sure someone does - several someones, many someones - but who they are - ? i don't know.

perhaps once the Children's Lit Association conference has passed (next week! i am a bundle of nerves and excitement - my first conference, my first conference paper) i'll be able to dive into the library and start doing some serious reading on the subject.

or perhaps i'll dive into a different library and simply do massive amounts of reading of YA novels themselves.

it's a win-win situation, either way.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

the first part last

more marathon reading today - can't kick the habit! pete hautman's sweetblood and angela johnson's the first part last.

sweetblood was interesting. i always like a good depressed protagonist. i'm not sure what to make of the ending, or if/what the moral message of the book is (don't be goth? you'll be happier as a blonde?) but overall - pretty good.

the first part last knocked my socks off. the shifting chapters - from "now" to "then" worked really well; johnson is really only concerned with capturing a relatively narrow chunk of time and events (nia's pregnancy, and then the first few months following feather's birth). the characters aren't overly fleshed out but they needn't be - the depths of feeling they experience around this baby are sufficient.

my favorite part may be bobby's parents, fred and mary. they're separated, and do not conform to traditional gender stereotypes without being ridiculous or obvious or commented on: Fred runs a restaurant, cooks, frets about the baby being warm enough; Mary is a photographer, in and out of town, very no-nonsense, less obviously warm fuzzy and nurturing. but johnson, via bobby, makes clear how successful as humans and parents they are. bobby's good relationship with his friends and especially his brother are also pretty fantastic in their subtlety and naturalness. this is a teen problem novel that doesn't really feel like a teen problem novel; there aren't a million issues spilling from every page. johnson has turned a very bright but still soft spotlight on one particular episode in the lives of her characters, and that is enough for one amazing novel.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

whooping it up with YA

i went to the library yesterday and returned with a nice stack of YA novels, of which i have already read three. THREE in about 24 hours. i am a quick reader. lucky for me.

i'm on some sort of strange YA kick - i can't get enough! i tried reading my "adult" novels last week and it just flopped. I have Fortress of Solitude started, and it's beautiful but in an almost-distracting way. Every other sentence feels like Beautiful! Meaningful! Deep! Important! Novel! and i can't see what the characters are thinking or doing or feeling. very frustrating.

which is why YA has been so rewarding. I need to go pick over another library - i'm thinking i'll try the squirrel hill, newly reopened branch of the carnegie public libraries. i'm compiling lists like a fiend, trying to find good stuff (the really good stuff as opposed to the merely good).

The 24-hour marathon included:

Rainbow Boys, Alex Sanchez - not bad, a nice teen highschool lovetriangle featuring gay boys in various stages of Out-ness
Donorboy, Brendan Halpin - bravo, brendan halpin! a really good book, good characters, a touch sappy but also aware of its sappiness. and a pretty interesting plot, i must add - Rosalind's moms die in a car/truck accident, her biological dad (aka sperm donor) who she's never met but who knew her moms, takes her in. single 35 year old lawyer guy, 14-year old grief stricken girl. watching rosalind come to like and/or appreciate sean - and the gradual process of that liking - is pretty amazing.
Jake, Reinvented, Gordon Korman. i love gordon korman for a semester in the life of a garbage bag which is quite possibly the funniest, most hysterical book i have ever read. jake...was a bit of a disappointment - it was pretty obvious to me what jake's "secret" was early on, and the whole thing was kind of predictable. moreover, our narrator/hero rick's motives for participating with this crowd of people he clearly dislikes is unclear. then again, korman has this gatsby/daisy thing going (jake/jay; didi/daisy) so perhaps i'll just read rick as nick and say it's Gatsby for the younger set. whether or not the younger set needs its own version of Gatsby is another issue which i will not touch with a ten-foot pole.

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