gregor the overlander

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.

The Hero's Journey (Monomyth) in YA

The Hero’s Journey (Monomyth) in YA Written by Grant Goodman, 11/4/2014

The Hero’s Journey (also called Monomyth) is a story pattern that appears again and again in literature and film. You can find it featured prominently in The Odyssey, The Princess Bride, and The Lion King, just to name a few.

While there are many “official” steps, here are the basics of what you need to know:

  1. The hero is forced to leave home to seek out adventure/a new life.
  2. Our hero meets a mentor or receives supernatural aid.
  3. There are several small challenges the hero must conquer.
  4. The hero experiences death and rebirth (not always literally, though).
  5. The power/skills necessary to succeed are finally mastered by the hero.
  6. The key obstacle is overcome or defeated, leaving the hero free to live without fear.

Here’s an example for you, which is a spoilerific romp through a certain wizard story you may have heard of, called HARRY POTTER.

Harry is whisked away to Hogwarts, where he must learn to cope with being a celebrity and the pressures of wizard school. He finds himself mentored by a series of wizards: Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius. In book after book, Harry must confront the growing threat of an ever more powerful Lord Voldemort, until eventually he faces the fully revived wizard. Harry experiences death at the hands of Voldemort, though he comes back to life. Harry, having overcome death and becoming the master of the Elder Wand, is able to end Voldemort’s uprising. He has removed the world’s greatest threat and is therefore able to go on living his life.

There are several other prominent titles that follow this model. Suzanne Collins’ GREGOR THE OVERLANDER, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, and Christopher Paolini’s INHERITANCE CYCLE are a few more that come to mind.

The next time you’re making your way through a YA adventure novel, there’s a good chance you’re following one of the most widely used story patterns in human history.

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.