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Archive for the ‘YA’ Category

How to be Awesome Like Cimorene

In books, feminism, gender, girl culture, How to be Awesome Like, YA on June 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

 

 

Chelsea H.

One of my favorite things about being an adult is rediscovering beloved books and characters from childhood. Now in my 30s, as I’ve read back through some of my favorite YA books I’ve noticed a penchant for a particular sort of female character: girls and women who were not content to work within the confines society (or men) laid out for them, or girls and women who made a difference to the outcome of the story, not just as the arm candy of some dude, but who saved the day themselves, or were necessary components in the shaping or reshaping of the world they inhabited.

This leads me to Dealing with Dragons, the first of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The kid inside me almost bursts with excitement to introduce you to Cimorene.

Cimorene is a princess, and though she grows up surrounded by all the typical fairytale commodities – a prosperous kingdom, attentive parents, golden-haired sisters, etiquette lessons, a handsome prospective suitor – we know by the end of page one that she hates the whole deal. As her adventures progress and she interacts with talking animals, dubious magic, wizards, a feisty but pragmatic witch, and of course, the titular dragons, a number of qualities stand out about Cimorene that make her unabashedly awesome.

Note: many of these qualities are developed considerably as the book progresses, but a number of them are apparent even within the first chapter or two. I’ve tried to restrict my examples to just these first few chapters to avoid too many spoilers, so you can go out and read this immediately and not have any of the delightful surprises ruined. So, that settled, here’s how to be awesome like Cimorene:

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The Downside of Being Good: Paris, Rory and “Gilmore Girls”

In feminism, gender, girl culture, teen soaps, TV, YA on September 25, 2014 at 11:24 am

Sarah Todd

Paris Geller scares people. It’s a beautiful thing. As a teen prep-school Napoleon taking the quirky citizens of Gilmore Girls by storm, she intimidates parents, students and teachers alike. At a debate meet, she engages in psychological warfare to freak out the competition. Her silent scowl is enough to persuade her opponent to change his call in a coin toss before the silver lands. She throws a literary bad boy off his game by dismissing the Beats as self-indulgent jerks. She makes her guidance counselor cry. When a suitor goes Casper on her after he heads off to Princeton, do you suppose that Paris weeps? Does she create a complex flowchart to determine whether some stray remark or unflattering hairstyle has driven him away? She most certainly does not. She simply jots his name down in her revenge notebook.

As a girl too focused on achieving world domination to stop and worry about what other people think of her, Paris is an honors graduate of the Amy Poehler “I don’t care if you like it” school of thought. It is this quality that makes her the perfect foil for her classmate Rory Gilmore, who appears–at least outwardly–to be the ultimate good girl.

While Rory is undeniably charming, I’ve long been annoyed by the way Gilmore Girls insists on having other characters go out of their way to tell her so. Teenage boys fall for her on sight, from a high school Don Juan (Tristan) to the aforementioned literary bad boy (Jess) to a sweet-and-steady jock (Dean). Rory almost always has at least two boyfriends, one current and one would-be, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll resort to fisticuffs over her at one dance-a-thon or another.

Not only does Rory invariably set hearts fluttering, she also wins steady praise for her intelligence. A teacher commends her for honing a school newspaper article about a repaved parking into “a bittersweet piece on how everybody and everything eventually becomes obsolete.” And the reading! Characters are constantly tripping over themselves to remark upon her book intake. (“Aren’t we hooked on Phonics,” a suitor observes upon entering her room for the first time—a hilarious line, since the only books visible in that particular shot are on two small, perfectly standard shelves above her desk.)

Rory’s mother Lorelai is particularly invested in the Rory-is-magic narrative, as Anne K. Burke Erickson notes in her essay on the show. Having gotten pregnant with Rory at age 16, Lorelai desperately needs to believe that Rory is a younger version of herself who can have the future she never did. As a result she’s constantly praising Rory for virtues large and small. “Rory’s never late,” she notes. “She’s almost annoyingly on-time.”

It’s a lot to handle. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Brave: The “Divergent” Method

In dystopian literature, feminism, YA on August 15, 2014 at 7:57 am

Sarah Todd

Too many girls grow up learning that they should be afraid to live in the world. Female action heroes offer us a different vision. When Ripley punches a slobbering alien queen, we see what it’s like to fight back. When Buffy defeats a pack of vampires with witticisms and a series of neatly executed roundhouse kicks, we can imagine our own unlikely victories. When Katniss aims her arrow at a shimmering window in a force field and lets it fly, it seems possible that we too can take oppressive systems down.

Inspiring as these characters are, their heroism can seem a little inaccessible–their ferocity inborn and therefore difficult to reproduce. Ripley is already a tough, no-nonsense warrant officer when she encounters her first slimy spider-creature. Buffy has the physical strength and superb fighting skills necessary for taking on the Hellmouth. Katniss has a rebellious spirit, fleet feet and perfect aim long before she enters the Hunger Games arena.

But for many real-world women, being brave takes practice. After all, women aren’t wrong to be afraid sometimes; the world really can be a dangerous place, and fear can be a life-saving instinct. But our culture is wrong to instill fear in women and then stop there, encouraging us to stay at home with all the lights on rather than empowering us to try to make the world safer for everyone.

That latter possibility forms the core of Divergent, a young adult film starring Shailene Woodley and based on a popular dystopian trilogy by Veronica Roth. The story—a blander, declawed version of the Hunger Games—isn’t going to set anybody’s world on fire. That said, I’ve read the whole series and expect to see all the movies. This is not because they are actually good, but because I’ve yet to encounter another story that engages so directly with the idea of a young woman who teaches herself courage.

Divergent is set in a bombed-out future version of Chicago that’s walled off from all that lies beyond city limits. Society is divided into six factions, according to the quality most prized by each. The Erudite are smarties in lab coats, while people in Candor are honest enough to tell them that lab coats are really unflattering. Abnegation members practice the art of selflessness; Amity types are peace-loving hippies. And then there’s Dauntless—a group of people who pride themselves on being brave, and will do pretty much whatever dumb thing to prove their mettle. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Year-End Picks: Librarians Vote On the Top YA Books of 2012

In books, YA on December 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm

There are a lot of benefits to being friends with a librarian. She can show you the insane(ly awesome) Excel spreadsheet she keeps of all the books she wants to read in her lifetime, which she updates constantly and color-codes according to how much she likes a given book! She can explain to you how the Dewey Decimal system works! And when you ask her to recommend some of the best young adult books of 2012, she can send out her librarian bat signal to a ginormous listserv and compile the votes of over 70 different young adult librarians.

Big thanks to my pal Samantha for her help, and to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) book group in particular. Y’all are amazing.

And so, without further ado, here are the 2012 young adult books that garnered the most votes from librarians who Know What They’re Talking About. Whether you’re in the mood for a World War II spy novel mind-bender, a funny-sad-smart tale about teenagers living with cancer, or a story about coming of age and coming out, there’s a YA book here for you (or for your favorite young’un). Let us know your own picks in the comments!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

From The New York Times: “The Fault in Our Stars” is all the more heart-rending for its bluntness about the medical realities of cancer. There are harrowing descriptions of pain, shame, anger and bodily fluids of every type. It is a narrative without rainbows or flamingoes; there are no magical summer snowstorms. Instead, Hazel has to lug a portable oxygen tank with her wherever she goes, and Gus has a prosthetic leg. Their friend Isaac is missing an eye and later goes blind. These unpleasant details do nothing to diminish the romance; in Green’s hands, they only make it more moving. He shows us true love — two teenagers helping and accepting each other through the most humiliating physical and emotional ordeals — and it is far more romantic than any sunset on the beach.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

From The Plain Dealer: Pity poor 17-year-old Evie O’Neill. It’s 1926 and she’s stuck in Zenith, Ohio, a thudding bore of a town where her mother is secretary of the Women’s Temperance Society. Pretty Evie has a taste for giggle water and adventure. She’s also got a talent for divining other people’s secrets.

This girl is bound for trouble.

Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein

From The New York Times: “Code Name Verity,” by Elizabeth Wein, is a fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel, the kind you have to read twice. The first time you just devour the story of girl-pilot-and-girl-spy friendship and the thrill of flying a plane and the horrors of Nazi torture and the bravery of French Resistance fighters and you force yourself to slow down, but you don’t want to, because you’re terrified these beautiful, vibrant characters are doomed. The second time, you read more slowly, proving to yourself that yes, the clues were there all along for you to solve the giant puzzle you weren’t even aware was constructed around you, and it takes focus and attention to catch all the little references to the fact that nothing is what you thought. Especially while you’re bawling your eyes out. Read the rest of this entry »

Chattering Good Stories: The Hunger Games and Other Revisitations

In Hunger Games, Melodrama, spoilers, YA on April 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Guest Contributor Taylor D.

There are times when, if you flicker your attention in its direction, your body will respond. You have to keep your mind OFF your nausea in order not to vomit. You must not allow yourself to recognize that your teeth could chatter or they WILL.

The other night, I went to see The Hunger Games. It was a long, wet end-of-March walk to the theater, and since the movie was at 6:30, I was planning on eating dinner afterwards. Throughout the film, I was aware of that strange bodily phenomenon. At any point during those two-plus hours, my teeth were clenched on the edge of chattering. Why this physical response? Here are some options:

1. I was cold.

2. I was hungry.

3. I was incredibly amped about seeing the performances.

4. I have no imagination and can only respond when movies show me how.

5. ???

All of these are a little bit true. I was cold and hungry, and I was very excited to see Jennifer Lawrence’s newest star turn. And although I DO have imagination, and books move me all the time – I’ll quote Nabokov on this in a minute – movies use music to ratchet up the emotional response, and this added value cannot be overstated. But I want to try to put some words inside those question marks. I think the question is this: WHY AM I TENSE WHEN I KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN? That’s where the chattering really lives, and it has to do with the consumption of stories.

Lots of movies are meant to provoke physical responses, possibly all of them. Linda Williams has named horror, melodrama, and pornography as the “body genres,” the forms of story most designed to get viewers’ bodies to respond, largely by featuring bodily excesses – terror, grief, orgasm – themselves. But laughter is a physical response too, so we should add comedy to the list; and tension, so we should add suspense, action, and thrillers; and gasps of wonder, so we should add epics and good animation; and so on. (Williams notes that “melodrama” is actually a broad category, one we could possibly expand to include some of these other genres, but her analysis focuses on tears rather than on tension, and I want to talk about tension.) The only movies that aren’t in some way bodily are the ones that are totally boring and do nothing to you (except maybe make you yawn – and yawning too is a physical response). Read the rest of this entry »

A Great and Terrible Beauty: A GLG Reading Group

In A Great and Terrible Beauty, gender, girl culture, Libba Bray, YA on April 3, 2012 at 8:19 am

Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty (AGTB), set primarily in Victorian England, is the first in a series of three books that trace the coming of age of Gemma Doyle. Gemma is not like every other girl at her boarding school, Spence. In fact, she is the last in a line of powerful women in possession of supernatural power. In a society where women must behave according to very specific and constraining codes of behavior, Gemma comes to realize that these constraints are not meant to protect women, but rather to control them. As Gemma becomes aware of the patriarchy that defines her world, she also realizes that the world of magic is one controlled and managed by men. AGTB is a novel about young women finding power, but also learning to manage and control that power — for without control, we learn, come terrible and terrifying consequences.

After finishing AGTB and missing Pretty Little Liars, we thought another reading group might be fun. Read on for our favorite characters and some more general thoughts on AGTB. But beware: spoilers abound.

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