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Posts Tagged ‘YA’

Why This Grown-up Reads YA

October 24, 2014 | by


When I was a senior in high school, I took a class on Freud in which we read Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, published not so many years earlier in 1982. Gilligan traced the history of the way in which a female mode of thinking, especially about moral dilemmas, had been diminished and misunderstood by psychologists—not just by Freud, but by others like Lawrence Kohlberg, well-known for his theories of moral development. In answer to an ethical question—Should a man steal drugs for his sick wife?—Kohlberg had found girls to be less developmentally mature than boys, as the girls were unable to respond with a simple no. But Gilligan, a clinical psychologist and researcher, suggested an alternate way of looking at how girls reason, morally or otherwise, that had to do with a much more nuanced understanding about the network of the connections girls felt between themselves and others. As Gilligan describes it, girls saw “in the dilemma not a math problem with humans but a narrative of relationships that extends over time.”

The effect In a Different Voice had on me was shattering in the best way: I felt that someone had finally recognized and articulated my predicament as a teenage girl. An old, black-and-white way of thinking—the kind I was at that moment trying to shoehorn myself into at my boarding school, which had only recently become coed—was being put to question. The gender ratio at my school was kept to one-third girls, two-thirds boys, so the girls wouldn’t “overwhelm” the boys, or so I was told. Urinals stood sentinel in our bathrooms, as if waiting until the whole thing went back to the boys. We even wore boy’s clothes—preferably our fathers’ or boyfriends’. It was mens sana in corpore sano all the way, but it was the boys’ corpora everyone was trying to emulate. Read More »


Crying While Reading

February 6, 2013 | by

rackham_matchgirl1In second grade, I first read “The Little Match Girl.” To the uninitiated, this Hans Christian Andersen tale is about a beggar girl who, on Christmas Eve, warms herself by burning her matches one by one, imagining happier times with her dead grandmother by their light. In a final blaze, she imagines herself warm and happy, surrounded by love and the lights of a Christmas tree. Then we learn she’s actually frozen to death.

I was, to put it mildly, traumatized by the story. It haunted me. In the years since, I have learned that this is not an uncommon reaction; no fewer than two of my adult friends have revealed that, from time to time, “The Little Match Girl” intrudes on their thoughts and casts them into the doldrums. But as a seven-year-old, I was wholly unable to deal with my emotions. For days after hearing the story, I was quiet and withdrawn, my thoughts with the poor, cold match girl and her pathetic wares. My teacher, Mrs. Romer, noticed, and asked if everything was okay. I said yes, but one day, thinking of the tiny frozen body on the streets of wintry Copenhagen during a math lesson, I burst into uncontrollable sobs.

The fallout was humiliating. Mrs. Romer asked me to eat lunch with her privately so we could discuss what was bothering me; who knows what trauma she thought to uncover. I was too embarrassed to admit the actual source of my anguish—I knew it to be wildly babyish, as well as irrational—so I quickly concocted a lame story about my brother having the flu. I guess the implication was that I was afraid for his life; in any case, it was unconvincing enough that she called my parents.

Having learned early the dangers of giving into lit-related emotion, I was pleased to see a feature titled What to Do When Books Make You Cry on Public Transportation on BookRiot. Their advice is common sensical and wide-ranging, but does not address the concerns of younger readers. And, really, there is no time like childhood for emotionally wrenching books—if memory serves, in one school year we read Bridge to Terabithia, Number the Stars, Hatchet, and Where the Red Fern Grows. In one school year! Maybe our teachers were trying to toughen us up for public reading; personally, I think holding it together for Cormac McCarthy is a cakewalk after Sounder. “The Little Match Girl,” however, should be reserved for the truly stony hearted. Or at least the over-seven set.


Teen Tour

January 8, 2013 | by

People who make it their business to classify such things call them “malt shop books”—the numerous young-adult series written in the 1950s and 1960s. I inherited a few of my mother’s Betty Cavannas in elementary school, and by age twelve I was hooked, scanning library sales and thrift stores for the tiny patch of tartan that denoted a vintage Scholastic paperback or the telltale words that suggested a title targeted at the teenage reader.

I learned how varied the genre was: the serious and introspective Betty Cavanna books; Janet Lambert’s series, which take place in military families; the more frivolous Rosamond du Jardins; the slightly odd Lenora Mattingly Webers, which center around the independent-minded Malone family.

Many of these books deal with “issues”—teen drinking, peer pressure, fast crowds. But the overall picture of teen life is wholesome and comforting. Parents tend to be supportive and families functional; the occasional sibling rivalry generally gives way to mutual understanding.

I was an awkward teenager. And my New York City school—full of sophisticated teenagers whom I found terrifying—was a far cry from the suburban utopia of the malt shop books. A late bloomer, painfully shy and painfully aware of not looking right in the clothes my mom bought me, I dreamed of a world in which virtue was rewarded; boys fell for the smart, quiet girls and were happy with wholesome dates; and everyone knew exactly how to dress for every occasion. I recognized that the books were idealized, but my interest was more than ironic or curious: I found the fictional universe of my collection a true refuge. (More contemporary YA titles took on drugs and sex; frankly, these weren’t my concerns.)

I enjoyed all the series, from Candy Kane (a precocious singer on an Army base) to Marty Smith (a gutsy journalism undergrad), but one became my favorite: Anne Emery’s Dinny Gordon books. Emery (not to be confused with the mystery writer of the same name) is perhaps better known for other series—the Sally and Jean Burnaby books, the 4-H centric Jane Ellisons, the Pat Marlowe stories, the Sue Morgan series. But Dinny Gordon was, and remains, my favorite.

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Psychos, Pencils, and Fines

August 8, 2012 | by

  • This terrific German blog gives the pencil its due (and, perhaps, then some).
  • In a time when e-books outsell their paper counterparts, NPR wonders whether cover design is a dying art.
  • In a gesture of either great magnanimity or great desperation, the Chicago Public Library waives all fines.
  • Movies you may not have known were inspired by books. (In the case of Psycho, probably because Hitchcock tried to buy up all the copies so there’d be no “spoilers.”)
  • On the one hand, we take issue with some of the rankings on this list of the hundred greatest young-adult novels. On the other, it’s encouraging to know kids are voting. (At least, we hope that’s the explanation.)
  • In obligatory Fifty Shades of Grey news, author E. L. James is curating an album of the classical music featured in the trilogy. (For the uninitiated: in addition to being the world's youngest billionaire and most accomplished lover, Christian Grey is also a world-class musician.)
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    Corrections and Test Questions: Happy Monday

    April 23, 2012 | by