Through a Glass Darkly: The Appeal of YA Dystopia

I did not think I was going to enjoy this book. I’ve always been ambivalent about stories that emphasize how unique their particular protagonist is from their peers. Society is full of sheep! Except for this one special boy/girl, the only one who recognizes the flaws in the system and strives fruitlessly to enlighten the masses. I think people are more complicated than that and I always want to hear the perspectives of the cast that the hero sees as uniform. So when I read the summary describing Maxwell as “more observant than the average Middletown teenager” who were “frighteningly obedient” I did not have the highest expectations.

Happily, that is not what this book does at all! Continue reading “Through a Glass Darkly: The Appeal of YA Dystopia”


YA Sports Lit Or How I Learned to Love the Game

Settling on a topic for this week’s blog entry was difficult. Write the response to Aya: Life in Yop City that I got derailed from last week? Compare David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing and Madeleine George’s The Difference Between You and Me? Put on my old political science hat and talk about intersectionality?

Nope, nope, and nope1. Today I want to talk about YA sports stories! Specifically, I don’t like them.

Or at least I thought I didn’t. I’ve never been able to get into watching sports. I don’t mind playing the occasional game but there are few things more intrinsically uninteresting to me then watching other people toss around a ball. That distaste extends to reading. Describing a novel as a sports story is a pretty good way to get me to dismiss it. Reading Chris Crowe’s “Sports Literature for Young Adults” got me thinking though and I realized I have enjoyed sports stories in the past. Just not as novels.

Gentle readers, today I’d like to introduce you to the wild and wonderful world of sports manga.

Continue reading “YA Sports Lit Or How I Learned to Love the Game”

YA’s Single Story: Musing Over YA’s Diversity Problem

I often work on my assignments in the GRC, a specialized library on our campus devoted to resources for the faculty of information and media studies (FIMS). At one point last semester, I wanted a break from the paper I was writing and began browsing some of the library journals on display. I’ve had a long term interest in multiculturalism and depictions of race in YA literature so when I noticed an article in one of the journals on multicultural YA I used my break time to skim it. It left me feeling very sad.

After getting a couple paragraphs into Sandra Hughes-Hassell’s Multicultural Young Adult Literature as a Form of Counter-Storytelling I realized it was sounding very familiar. Surprise! It was the mystery article from last term. Reading it more closely did not lessen my initial sense of disappointment. Why, you ask? It’s a great article. The point she makes about multicultural YA “[challenging] the stereotypes often held by the dominant culture, [giving] voice to marginalized youth, and [presenting] the complexity of racial and ethnic identify formation” is a good one. Continue reading “YA’s Single Story: Musing Over YA’s Diversity Problem”

Thoughts on YA Poetry: A Creative Exercise

Each week in my Young Adult Materials class we’re assigned a list of readings. Some of them will be books (this week was two fantasy titles: Sabriel by Garth Nix and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman) while the others are articles or videos on a topic related to YA materials (this week was poetry). As you may have noticed in the past two months, I typically chose to respond to one of the novels. I’ve been writing book reviews for years, when I’m stuck on what to say it’s easiest for me to default to the review format. However, after reading Jimmy Santaigo Baca’s “Making the Rounds” and watching Billy Collin’s TED Talk Everyday Moments, Caught in Time I decided to try something new this week. These two pieces got me thinking about my relationship with poetry.

Do You Like Poetry?
No. Can’t say that I do.
The trouble with poetry
is that they always make you dissect it
pick out the metaphors, allusions, similes
until it’s no longer a living thing
broken into puzzle pieces
when it should be a song

The trouble with poetry
is that they insist on teaching it to you

Of course I do
I was a kid once, weren’t you?
Singing a song
following a rhythm
that’s what poetry’s like
when it’s a breathing thing

The great thing about poetry
is how much fun it is to play

Another nice thing about poetry: it can be very concise.

The Night Wanderer Book Trailer and Recommendations of Aboriginal Music

This week my friend Alison and I made a trailer for Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Night Wanderer. I gained a lot of respect for bloggers who do this regularly, I don’t think either of us anticipated just how much work this would end up being. I’m quite pleased with the final result though!

I also put together a double-sided single page infosheet with additional information for creating book talks for The Night Wanderer.

The Night Wanderer: A Book Talk Infosheet

(I realize I am pushing it a little in my interpretation of the phrase ‘single page’. If you’re pressed for time I kept the most essential content to the front page so you could just read that and go off sadly unaware of the critical success of The Night Wanderer)

In the novel, Tiffany’s grandmother often muses on how the Anishinaabe language is slowly dying out. After finishing The Night Wanderer, one of the things Alison and I decided we really wanted to do was highlight some Anishinaabe music in our trailer. This turned into a bit of a quest through various Aboriginal artists to find something that matched the tone we wanted in our trailer. I thought I’d share some of groups I checked out while searching!

Continue reading “The Night Wanderer Book Trailer and Recommendations of Aboriginal Music”

Thoughts on ‘Dark’ YA and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_IndianThree years ago I was heavily involved in the YA blogging sphere. At that time a discussion sprang up around an article Meghan Cox wrote for The Wall Street Journal criticizing what she perceived as the presence of too much “darkness” in current YA publishing. One of my favourite responses to her argument was Sherman Alexie’s Why the Best Kids Book Are Written in Blood, an article I returned to after reading his YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

The Absolutely True Diary is a fantastic book. It follows Junior, a fourteen year old boy living on the Spokane Indian Reserve when he decides to transfer to a high school off the reservation. There’s a lot to recommend the book: Junior is an incredibly likeable character with a funny honest narrative voice and the cartoons he uses to illustrate his thoughts are fantastic. What really impressed me though was how Alexie addressed a lot of what Cox would term ‘dark’ content — poverty, racism, death, eating disorders, and alcohol abuse, among others. Listing out those issues makes it seems like The Absolutely True Diary should be a depressing novel. It’s not. Junior goes through a lot of difficult events in the year of the narrative but the realizations he comes to are ultimately compassionate and hopeful. I think it’s incredibly important to have books like The Absolutely True Diary in a YA collection, books that validate the experiences of teenagers facing difficulties and give them the tools to deal with their lives.

Sherman Alexie puts it beautifully in the conclusion to his article:

I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

Comics, and Manga, and Webcomics, Oh My!

Hello everyone! It occurred to me that this might be a good place to link to the website I recently created to support a presentation on YA comics and graphic novels I did with a partner.

As you can see, I took great pains to be creative with the name. Here you will find entirely too many words on YA comics, outmatched only by the number of thoughts we eventually decided weren’t strictly necessary to a website intended to serve as a resource for librarians trying to develop a graphic novel collection. If the website leaves you with any further burning questions about YA graphic novel industry I’d be happy to answer any that I’m able at

Image in Walter Dean Myers’ Monster

I read a lot of books by Walter Dean Myers in middle school. He was a staple at every library I went to, probably because so many of his novels lent themselves well to curriculum building. It’s been awhile since I read his work so I was looking forward to seeing what I might get out of his book Monster from an adult perspective.


Monster follows sixteen year old Steve Harmon as he stands on trial as an accessory to murder. He is accused of being the lookout in an armed robbery that left a drug store owner shot on the floor of his store. The novel is communicated in dual formats, Steve’s journal entries and a screenplay he creates of his trial in an attempt to distance himself from what is happening to him and assert some control over his narrative.

Continue reading “Image in Walter Dean Myers’ Monster”

Book Review: Pinned by Sharon G. Flake

Pinned Cover PageWell known as a writer of quality contemporary young adult fiction starring African-American teens, Sharon G. Flake delivers another excellent read with Pinned. Ninth graders Autumn and Adonis are polar opposites. Autumn struggles with reading and is a star wrestler and the only girl on her wrestling team. Adonis was born without legs and is a gifted and disciplined student, who manages the team. He is also the recipient of Autumn’s affections, who believes they would make an excellent couple. Adonis disagrees.

The developing romance between Autumn and Adonis is secondary to their growth as characters. Autumn’s pursuit of Adonis is by turns heartwarming and embarrassing, as she seems convinced he will return her affections if only she is persistent enough. Her challenge is to apply this level of determination to academics, overcoming her belief that reading is something she is incapable of doing well. Meanwhile, Adonis must develop compassion; learning that others face different challenges than he does and should be met with kindness rather than judgement.

Pinned Back CoverAutumn and Adonis are both well-developed characters who learn from each other. Between their journeys and a supporting cast with distinct personalities and challenges, Pinned delivers a strong message about the importance of empathy and taking the time to understand what is troubling others. Flake’s clear simple language and Autumn’s struggles with reading may also give this title additional appeal to reluctant readers. Recommended.

Flake, Sharon G. Pinned. New York: Scholastic Press, 2012. Print. 231 pages. $19.99 CAN (9780545 057189). Ages 12+

Book Review: Young Avengers: Style > Substance

Young Avengers: Style > Substance Cover PageKieron Gillen reinvents the popular Young Avengers line for Marvel NOW!, bringing together teen superhero teammates Wiccan, Hulkling, and Hawkeye with new additions to the Marvel line up. Kid Loki (yes, that Loki, Norse trickster god deaged) attempts to reunite the Young Avengers team when reality-warper Wiccan accidentally summons an reality warping parasite in an attempt to restore his boyfriend’s dead mother. The team bands together to battle warped versions of their parents intent on feeding on their souls. Gillen clearly has fun with the dialogue of the alterna-parents who take typical parental restrictions (dating, tirades against ‘bad influence’ friends, and more) to murderous extremes. The storyline will likely appeal to fans of Marvel’s similar teen superhero line Runaways.

The title Style > Substance gives an apt description of the volume’s strengths. Though the volume’s focus on pulling the team together leaves it a little light on plot, the biggest draw is its strong sense of style. Gillen writes entertaining pop-culture laced dialogue while McKelvie’s art makes every character distinct and eye catching. The action sequences are particularly engaging due to McKelvie’s willingness to experiment with layout, never portraying any two fights in the same manner. At the same time, this creativity can occasionally make scenes difficult to parse, requiring effort on the part of the reader. While Gillen and McKelvie succeed in bringing a distinct and entertaining new voice to the Marvel universe, the ties to the pre-existing Young Avengers title and experimental layouts make this a title best suited to the experienced comics reader. Recommended with reservations.

Gillen, Kieron, writer. Young Avengers: Style > Substance. Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton. Colored by Matthew Wilson. Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles. New York: Marvel, 2013. Print. 128 pages. $17.99 CAN (97807851 67082). Ages 14+