Tag Archives: reading

Dear Young Adult Lit, Thank You for Bringing out the Ugly

More than a week ago, The Wall Street journal posted an article, which talks about how there’s too much violence, drugs and stuff in young adult literature. Quite naturally, a lot of people disagreed. They tweeted #yasaves and there were a lot of blog posts (one of my favourites). Now, the whole thing seems to have quieted down a little, but I was too busy to put my thoughts on the subject together then, so here goes.

The main point I got from the WSJ article was that there’s too much focus on ugly stuff in YA lit, and that it may somehow make the reader do that stuff and make them think that it’s OK. First off, I don’t think that most readers are that susceptible, and if they are, there’s a deeper problem there, which is not caused by reading, rather, it’s just brought to the surface. A very good point was made by many folks around the interwebs – if you don’t acknowledge something, you don’t stop it from existing. The ugly thing is still there. Talking about it helps. Reading or listening other people talk about it helps too, because it turns the ugly thing from the black unspeakable mess inside you into something definable, something that you can deal with. I mean, there’s got to be a reason why during group therapy everyone is encouraged to say whatever they’re feeling and stuff.

As for the argument that reading books containing, say, drug use or self-harm, makes one believe those things are OK and that you should do them… I haven’t read that many YA books, but the ones I did read (and that includes Melvin Burgess’s Heroin, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange) had quite the opposite effect on me. Of course, there are always going to be people who react in a destructive way to a lot of things, but, I think, if there weren’t YA lit, it would just as easily be something else.

I do think that, if nothing else, YA lit can help a reader understand that it’s OK to have dark thoughts sometimes, that it’s OK to express them by talking or writing, and most importantly that you aren’t alone.

Kind of sad that there’s only one of John Green’s books available in this forgotten corner of the world,

Noodle.

P.S. As I was trying to think of a cool title for this post, I had a vivid mental image from an animated movie called Spirited Away. There’s a black creature in it. At first it looks nice and friendly, but then it starts demanding more and more food and it becomes quite frightening, and then a girl comes in and gives the creature something so that it vomits everything out, and it gets better. I don’t really know if there’s much point to that image, but I guess it’s just another way of showing that it’s better to get everything out. Or something. It’s past midnight and I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore.

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Choices, Anyone? (Couple of Thoughts on ‘My Sister’s Keeper’)

So that’s midterm time for you. I haven’t had time for anything but studying or staring at a fixed point in front of me, my brain fried from the excessive information intake, for three weeks or so… Actually, that’s not entirely true. I found time to read a book. Actually, I couldn’t help it. It sort of happened – I love when people say that something “sort of happened” or something like that – I always find it kind of funny, how can something just happen, but then it happens to me and I totally understand. So, here’s what happened.

I was really distraught after one particularly nasty midterm and decided to do some shopping therapy. So I went into a book shop. I know, not exactly your usual choice for shopping therapy, but that’s what I felt like doing at the time. I had my eye on a few books for some time, but it was something unexpected that caught my eye. Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper. Paperback, original English version (I don’t read original versions much, except for Harry Potter and Jane Austen, but I somehow didn’t felt like reading a translation of this one). Of course, I’d heard about the book (and the movie), I knew that it was about a girl who has cancer or something. I opened it and read the first page… And anyone who doesn’t want to be spoiled should stop reading here (yeah, a Harry Potter fan habit). Proceed at your own risk.

So, I read the Prologue. There this girl is telling how she once tried to kill her sister, but their dad came in and stopped her (by the way, anyone who’s read this book – which sister’s memory do you think the Prologue is? ‘Cause I’m rather confused). That got me. I don’t exactly why. Or maybe I know. It was the dad. I like when there’s a nice / interesting dad / father figure in a story. I bought it. And that’s how it happened. I took it out on the bus home and had to tear myself from it every time I needed to do something like work, eat or study. I finished it about 36 hours after I bought it, at 2 a.m. The feverish haste I was reading it, drinking in every word, reminded me of how I used to read Harry Potter books as they were just coming out. My Sister’s Keeper is pretty much nothing like Harry Potter, of course, but they seem to have had the same sucking-in effect on me.

Actually, now I come to think about it, there’s also a theme both stories explore – the theme of choices. They are so different about the way they deal with it, and I love it in both stories. In Harry Potter, everything depends on Harry’s mother choosing to die for him and later Harry chooses to die and by doing so saves everyone. In My Sister’s Keeper, Anna is fighting for the right of choosing to stop saving her sister (though everything turns out to be rather more complicated than that), but in the end she doesn’t get that choice anyway – fate (or whatever) takes it away from her, and her organs are used to save her sister. When I finished the book, I was really frustrated about that. My mum always says that you do what your heart tells you (or what you can or whatever) and in the end everything works out just as it should, and I guess I agree (from my limited life experience), but it just sucks when that “should” is not in your favour, or in this case, not in Anna’s favour.

Part of the reason why I was so annoyed with the ending, I think, was that all throughout the book I didn’t like Kate (the sick sister) very much. And then it occurred to me that up until the Epilogue we don’t actually get to hear Kate’s point of view. Even though the book sort of focuses on her illness, all of it (apart from the aforementioned Epilogue) is told from other people’s point of view. I think that’s kind of brilliant decision made by the author, actually – that everyone seems so focused on this girl, but they don’t really pay attention to what her needs are, just what her illness needs, so to speak.

It’s been a while since any book has gripped me so much that I actually want to talk about it in detail, only for that I need to reread it again.

Missing high-school lit class,

Noodle.