catching fire

Know Your YA History: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Written by Grant Goodman, 4/8/2015 Dark YA starts with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the tale of a plane full of boys that crash-lands on an island. The only adult (the pilot) is killed on impact and the kids are left to fend for themselves. What follows is a tale of adolescents torn between holding onto order and letting themselves become wild beasts.

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games for its starkly brutal critique of what war does to children, then you’ll find yourself swept away by Lord of the Flies.

The boys make early attempts at sticking together. They try to establish rules and they try to look out for the youngest kids of the bunch. But the longer they are there, the more they give in to their darker urges. Their clans split and they find themselves in a power struggle with one another.

Packs of boys become hunters and they are overtaken by bloodlust. They paint their faces for the hunt and in doing so, they change into catastrophically evil versions of themselves. The peaceful kids are trampled on (figuratively) or outright murdered (literally).

Like many popular YA stories, (catching) fire plays an important recurring role. First, fire is a way of signaling for rescue. Throughout the novel, though, the fire goes out or it burns too low, which is a fantastic symbol for the boys losing their connection to the rest of human society. At the very end, fire is turned into a destructive force, meant to force one of the boys out of hiding and into the waiting ambush of those who wish to kill him.

While Lord of the Flies isn’t necessarily classified as YA, it’s a novel about young adults and their tendencies and urges. When it was first published, it pushed the boundaries of violence and despair and decades later it remains as a milestone moment for books about young adults.

VIDEO: Adults Purchasing YA Lit

This news story investigates a fascinating trend: a lot of YA books are actually being purchased and read by adults. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQE-wMiO2Gw&w=560&h=315]

Report: YA in the UK, France

Written by Grant Goodman, 3/2/2015 Today I was wondering what the YA sales charts for Amazon look like in other countries.

I found the best seller page for teen Science Fiction and Fantasy on the Amazon US site, the Amazon UK site and the French site, too.

Let’s check out how they differ.

First, the US site:

028 image 1 US

It appears that people are really interested in finding out more about this mermaid’s sister. It’s a title I’m not familiar with…and, actually, I don’t recognize two, three, or four. Looks like I have some catching up to do.

My guess is that with the Insurgent movie only three weeks away, those books will all find their way into the top five.

Let’s look at what’s happening in the UK:

028 image 2 UK

It seems that in his native land, Harry Potter is still the king of YA literature. And it seems that they also have taken a shine to the mermaid and her sister. The Hunger Games is selling well and James Dashner has his Maze Runner finale in the top six. The UK site, however, also mixes in children’s books, which is why book number five seems very much out of place.

Finally, to France:

028 image 3 france

Suzanne Collins is dominating the charts, no question about it. In fifth place is Alain Grousset, a French sci-fi author with a novel about a boy who lives on a tower that is one hundred floors high. In sixth is Christian Grenier, whose book is about two warring clans: one that believes in screens while the other believes in reading and writing. (I hope both of these will make their way to American shelves!)

VIDEO: A Brief History of Young Adult Literature

EpicReads has posted this excellent video examining the roots of Young Adult (YA) literature and the influential titles that have popped up over the years. The Outsiders by SE Hinton gets a special mention that it rightfully deserves: that book is just as meaningful to teens today as it was when it first came out.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkdnKQmHsWA&w=560&h=315]

Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and You

Written by Grant Goodman, 2/16/2015 Time travel. Rocket ships. Wizards. Dystopias.

You will meet many people in your life who look down on “those kinds of stories.” They are the serious types. They believe in their serious literature.

We can let them believe in that.

They can have their stories about sad people in sad cities. Because, honestly, we read those books, too. Every now and again, we need a palate cleanser, a waystone that lets us step back into our own world.

The deep truth is this: we like other worlds. We like worlds that don’t already exist.

Besides, the biggest milestones of human storytelling tend to be about magic and dystopias.

The Odyssey is full of witches and sea monsters and Cyclops. Beowulf fought a dragon. Shakespeare filled his plays with ghosts and wizards and prophecy. Mary Shelley brought the dead back to life. Jules Verne sent humanity to explore the moon long before John F. Kennedy was born.

Reading fantasy and science-fiction connects us to the roots of the world. The desires to explore and to escape and to imagine are built into us.

That’s why we need Suzanne Collins to send us into the arena. That’s why we need Darren Shan to show us the hidden world of vampires. That’s why Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

So go ahead and dive into sci-fi and fantasy.

But don’t be afraid to dip your toes into realistic fiction, either. There’s excellence to be found there, too.

YA & MLK: Civil Rights and Acceptance

YA & MLK: Civil Rights and Acceptance Written by Grant Goodman, 1/19/2015

Today’s holiday is a moment that is marked by hatred and tragedy, triumph and persistence. The fact that human beings had to fight for their right to be considered equal to other humans is something that never ceases to sicken me. The fact that it still continues to this day is downright depressing.

There is hope, though. The idea of fighting for civil rights finds can be found all over the YA canon. The more we read about this topic, even in fiction, the less likely we are to continue the cycle in real life.

I’ll start with the Harry Potter series. In Harry’s world, there is a hierarchy of blood purity that some still follow. To these wizard, pure humans are, of course, the lowest form, but they still reserve their hatred for wizards who are born to fully-muggle parents. The slur word for them, “mudblood,” is one that cuts deep. While there is no de-facto protest movement in the Harry Potter novels, there is still the matter of these wizards standing up for themselves.

Since Mockingjay Part I is still in theaters, let’s go ahead and examine the Hunger Games trilogy. The citizens of Panem, those who reside in the poorer districts, are all enslaved. They are fenced in, cut off, under curfew, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by those in charge. Regardless of skin color, the residents of the lower districts are marginalized, demonized, and broken by the existing social structure of their world.

There are the people of Ishval in Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, Fullmetal Alchemist, whose homeland is taken over by a mighty military. The Smokies in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies are yet another persecuted group. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series has its skaa. And while few people have read it, I have always loved Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Eye of the Heron for its amazing story of a space colony caught up in its own civil rights movement.

The worlds of YA mirror our own in many ways. There are tales of oppression, messages about “the other” and the ways in which they are ostracized, stories of interplanetary love. They all come to the same conclusion: hatred for your fellow man (or alien or cyborg or ghost or robot) is one of the universe’s darkest traits. We will always explore these conflicts, because our own sad history is rife with them. One of the best ways to deal with it—to learn to move forward—is to familiarize yourself with the struggles of others so you can empathize with them. That way, when it’s time to figure out what is right, you’ll know where you need to stand.

5 More Amazing Sentences from YA Novels

In case you missed the first installment, check it out HERE. 1. “This is the first kiss that makes me want another."

--Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

2. "Too late, I found you can't wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else."

--Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

3. “We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.”

--Peter Beagle, The Last Unicorn

4. "...there's something about a girl and a night and a beach."

--Cory Doctorow, Little Brother

5. “Autumn has a hungry heart.”

--Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Three Books I'm Thankful For

FAHRENHEIT 451, for being a cornerstone of my life. For the constant reminder that language is magic. For the message that misery comes in many forms, that darkness can be created by fire, that sometimes the only to move forward is to destroy almost everything that was behind you. For the never ending inspiration. FEED by M.T. Anderson, for its discussion of materialism and how easily some of us would sell our lives in exchange for constant entertainment. For reminding me of the difference between access to information and knowledge.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, for pointing out that so many countries sacrifice their children to war and think little of it. For criticizing our ridiculous celebrity culture. For making my heart rate reach unhealthy levels.

Feminism in YA: Katniss Everdeen

Feminism in YA Literature: Katniss Everdeen Written by Grant Goodman, 9/26/2014

You cannot ignore the roles of girls and women in literature. I mean this both in terms of fiction and in real life. For starters, women read more than men do. In turn, it should be reasonable to expect that there are more female leads in literature than male leads. So how are some of the more popular YA lit titles treating their leads?

Full disclosure, people: I am not a scholar of feminist theory or literature. I am also a man. I took one course on feminism in science-fiction when I was a senior in college. Occasionally, I engage in conversation with those who know a TON more about the subject than I do. That does not make me any sort of authority figure. So if you can add to the discussion and further my education, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

Since the YA blogging world is going to be driven by Mockingjay discussion for the next few weeks, I figured I should start with Katniss Everdeen.

In the first novel, this is a little of what we learn about her: she is the sole provider for her family, she is the mother figure for her sister, she is a hunter, she has a male best friend with whom she does not have romantic involvement, and she does not suffer fools gladly.

I don’t want to use the generic “Is she a ‘strong female lead?’” approach, because I think that term has been kicked around far too much.

Instead, I’d like to simply examine Katniss’ status as a role model.

  1. Katniss understands that adulthood and maturity are defined by your ability to take care of others.

She hunts for food. She looks out for her sister. She (grudgingly) looks after her mother. These roles eat up an enormous amount of her time and energy. Yet, she does them. She carries on.

  1. Katniss understands the true meaning of sacrifice.

This operates on two levels. First, she has sacrificed her adolescence in order to keep her family together. As a teacher, I can tell you that there are few things more heartbreaking than learning that one of your 12 year old students is having to take up the role of mother or father in the family due to negligence, disappearance, or illness.

Second is the literal sacrifice she makes, offering herself as a participant in the Hunger Games, rather than letting her sister be chosen. This second type of sacrifice also comes into play during the games on several occasions.

  1. Katniss struggles with her media portrayal, in which she achieves extra attention once a romantic entanglement with Peeta surfaces as part of the games.

This is a complicated one to navigate, folks. Not just for her, but for the readers. At one point in the games, her hopes for survival hinge on selling a love story to an audience. And so you are rooting for her to pull through, but I also hope that you understand how twisted that situation is. The inner monologue pieces, in which Katniss isn’t sure how she feels about Peeta (is it real? Is it manufactured?) were some of the strongest pieces of writing in that first novel. She recognizes and admits the confusion, she grapples with it rather than simply accepting and blocking it out of her mind.

Okay, I’m struggling to find a proper way of concluding this. Because, honestly, like any human being, there are traits she carries that aren’t worthy of admiration, too.

But what I can say is that by presenting a character who is a mixture of shadow and light, responsibility and rejection, Suzanne Collins gives us someone realistic who we can discuss intelligently, and in my mind, that is a victory.