Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I couldn't decide on a title, either.

I come to you again with the discussion of my research project.  I think I'd like to tackle legitimizing young adult literature as a genre with valuable literature for study.  It's a big concept, and I'm not sure I'd be able to comprehensively address it, but for now, I'm exploring the idea.

I'd like to argue that there are Young Adult Literature texts that are good enough to teach on their own merits, without any need for legitimizing them as partner texts to canonical works.  In order to do that, I think I'll take a novel and dig into it over the course of my discussion.  I do have a couple options for this (The Hunger Games and The Book Thief first come to mind).

But since I'm delightfully indecisive, I'd also like your input (I readily admit I am nowhere near the YAL guru I'd like to be).  If you were going to choose a novel that offered valuable themes and literary techniques to teach within a high school classroom, a novel that you felt addressed not only the state standards but your own as well, which text would you choose?


  1. I would recommend Justina Chen Headley's North of Beautiful. Amazing. This one word just doesn’t do enough justice for this book. It was more than amazing; it was so incredibly delicious. I could barely control the impulse to NOT put it down when there were other things to do in my life. I haven’t felt that in a while. The book left me breathless for more by this author.

    Headley sprinkles references to her motif, maps and cartography, throughout the book. Terra discovers geocaching, a way of treasure hunting using GPS (NOT Georgia Performance Standards). Geocaching uses GPS technology to help a person find a small treasure that someone has left behind. You can look up various geocache spots online. Since Terra, though she doesn’t realize it, is really on a quest for the treasure within, the geocaching is a symbol for the search for her own treasure. The way that the references to maps are symbols for the changes in Terra’s life can be explored further with students. Even her name is a reference to cartography: terra firma.

    Artistic teens will be drawn to Terra’s artistic side. She creates collages, and really, by the end of the book, the reader can see that all the interesting details of Terra’s life and her encounters with Jacob make up this amazing collage that is her life. Terra can finally see that it’s the bits and pieces of each of us that make up a pleasing whole. She can see that one thing doesn’t make us who we are.

    Almost all of us feel like we’re being judged for our flaws, obvious or not, at some point or another. Terra is called “jolie laide,” a term meaning “pretty ugly.” It also is used to describe a woman who would not be considered beautiful in the common sense, but who is still oddly attractive. Terra has to grow to understand this latter definition, though. She says at the end of the novel:
    “Physical beauty wasn’t the same as True Beauty, any more than pretty ugly meant
    truly ugly or Magnetic North meant True North. I preferred my brand of beauty where Norah was more beautiful than any bimbette, and Mom was beautiful whether sized
    extra-small or extra-large. Where Peony could look at herself in the mirror and murmer, Wow, look at me. Just look at me.” (355)

    Reading this book with students would give us an avenue to openly discuss abuse with our students.

    The multiple themes found in the book (discoveries made about yourself and your family, finding the real beauty in people, etc.) can be explored in many ways.

    Terra goes to CHINA! Headley does a good job describing the country. (Now I want to go!)

    Even though the book is long (373 pages!), it is a quick read.

    The above statements came from a review that I did for this book.

  2. I'm very excited about your masters project using YA Lit because 1) I managed to write my senior undergraduate thesis about urban fantasy and got just the same looks that you do, 2) I want to go back to school and get my PhD, and 3) I also want to incorporate YA Lit in my research. What I would love to investigate is how growing up and constantly using technology is changing the way people read, and how texts will respond to those changes. YA Lit, then, is the perfect thing to study since it targets those digital natives, and we can see trends such as shorter chapters, illustrations, multi-genre works, etc. occur.

    To get to the subject of your question, I agree with you on The Hunger Games (I wish I were still teaching 12th graders so I could teach this alongside 1984 in our now non-tracked classes) and The Book Thief. Another YA novel I've enjoyed teaching is Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Even the title alone calls for questions about being a reliable narrator!

    ATD is a great book for an American Lit class because it pulls no punches about the conditions of life on Indian reservations, both the good (supportive community in times of grief) and bad (poverty, alcoholism, and death).

    The protagonist, Junior, decides that education will be his path to success, and decides to attend an all-white school outside of the reservation. This causes him to lose the respect of his best friend and the tribe, but he can't seem to fit in at his new school either.
    Junior's voice is brilliantly vivid not only in his dialogue and internal monologue, but also in his illustrations--he wants to be a cartoonist, and art of varying styles is throughout the book, adding another rich layer of analysis opportunities.

    Basketball is another major element of the novel, as it is the sport on the reservation and one that Junior discovers he is actually good at, bringing him in competition with the reservation school. There's an interesting PBS documentary called Chiefs on Hulu that shows this situation in real life--how basketball is the only thing some of these students have to look forward to, and what happens after they graduate and are no longer on the team.
    URL: http://www.hulu.com/watch/66693/pbs-indies-chiefs

    This book has a lot of great questions about identity and ambition and friendship to explore. You should definitely read it even if you don't teach it.

  3. Knighton, I could tell this was clearly a book that touched you deeply! And by gosh, isn't that what we hope these YA books can trigger for our students? Thanks for the in-depth analysis. I had never heard of this book, but I am excited to add it to my to-read list and investigate it further!

    Katie, I have read and loved ATD! I read it over the summer, and I think your own interest in the changing ways we read is a great way to dive into ATD. As I was driving home, I was thinking of "the canon" and what makes it in. Usually it's people who were doing something different or new for the time. That particular aspect of the work doesn't necessarily get highlighted at the high school level, but it's part of the high school canon because of it (at least in part). ATD would be a great way of looking at future reading, mostly because of how very visual/multifarious our technology has allowed reading to become.

    Thanks for the suggestions! Keep 'em coming, all!

  4. It really, really did. I have a few copies that I plan on using this year. I was fortunate enough to be able to read it with my teenage daughter who also loved it. I LOVED discussing it with her--it's a wonderful mother/daughter read. I ended up getting it put on our school's summer reading list. If you check out the cover, maybe you'll see why I was drawn to it, why I spent my birthday money on it. LOVE IT!