A Rainbow Worth Following . . .

Sometimes you bite into a book and it seems like it should be exciting, interesting, and perfect for your YA readers.Sometimes you open it and start reading, but soon the words blur on the page, you begin yawning, and find that the dialogue is taking you nowhere, because never in a million years does it reflect a conversation that you could possibly imagine any teens you know having. OR it’s so extremely dirty, you cringe at the idea of recommending it to a younger person, even if the story is, indeed, worth reading, and blush even as you read it.

However, every so often, you come across a book that’s so well written and masterfully told that you can’t put it down; you can’t wait to share it with every YA lit reader you know; you don’t want it to end. I had this distinct impression while reading Rainbow Rowell’s book, Eleanor & Park.

The book tells a couple of clear narrative story lines along the way: one follows Eleanor’s troubles dealing with an abusive step father, a highly impoverished living environment, and being the odd new girl in school. The other follows the budding friendship/relationship between Eleanor and her bus seat buddy, Park. It is a beautifully woven narrative, with strong dialogue, a touching switch of narration between Eleanor and Park ( a technique that’s been done–and done well–repeatedly in young adult fiction, by other YA lit authors–Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s popular book/movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist comes to mind, as well as in Marie Lu’s Legend series and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series–the books, not so much the movie). Personally, I think it’s a great way for the author to incorporate both the male and female perspectives in the story.

If you liked John Greene’s The Fault in Our Stars, this one is a great one to check out! (Especially because film rights have already been bought by Dreamworks, and the film itself is set to begin shooting next year!!!)

 

While Eleanor & Park is my favorite by this author, she has a couple of other books out, too, intriguingly each for (in my humble opinion) different age groups. While E & P is clearly geared for young adult readership, her book Fangirl, about twin girls starting college–one of whom is extroverted, the other introverted, both dealing with familial issues, concerns for each other and the initial college experience–is a great read, as well, though maybe a bit much for the standard 12-17 crowd. The book follows the main character, Cath, who is the author of an extremely popular fan fiction blog about a highly Harry Potter-esque book series, which rules her life through most of the book. Her sister, Wren, is focused on partying, drinking, boys and not much else. Yet Rowell does a great job of not judging either for their proclivities: instead, she treats her characters as young women who are making choices about juggling life, family, classes, and personal interests (though she does an excellent job of showing the family’s concern for Wren’s self-abusive drinking behaviors). Indeed, Cath is constantly reflecting the nervousness/self-doubt that seems fairly common in many young adults, while Wren engages in very adult behaviors with the careless interests of a youngster first tasting freedom.

There are definite arguments that this could work for the very oldest of the young adult novel crowd. However, I would lean the readership of this book more squarely towards new adult over young adult.

Finally, Rowell’s last book–Attachments–is squarely an adult novel (and so I won’t go into details on it on this blog. However, if you–fully adult young adult teachers–want a witty adult read, you could definitely do worse).

Out of curiosity, what is your take on romance in young adult lit? How much is enough, and how much is too much? And, perhaps most important, how does the author’s use of literary techniques determine the answers to these questions for you?

–JMF

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2 thoughts on “A Rainbow Worth Following . . .

  1. LD
    I enjoyed reading this, thank you!
    As to your romance-in-young-adults-literature question: I would never shy away from having students read about a very important part of life, especially since I remember my wildly romantic flights of fancy and daydreaming about “the boy” started at 11 or 12. Why would I avoid the elephant in the room? I’d look for material that deals with being engulfed by feelings for another, as that is a profound universal experience; I would then focus on the question of feelings vs actions, about making choices and consequences, and how we might learn about life without ruining it. The question for me is: is it a necessary part of my curriculum? If so, why and where? I figure it would come in more from the students, where if they are cueing me in this direction, I would have to follow it.
    I remember a 70’s film, “A Taste of Honey”, was considered shocking at the time, because the story was gritty ( a teenager, poor, pregnant and alone, tries to create family out of the questionable people drifting in and out her life), and realistic; I was deeply moved by it, as I found the message to be about the eternal search for love, and how it is found in unexpected places. It was not about sex, or wasted moral character, or glamourizing being a poor, single mother. I appreciated its unflinching honesty, and felt I could handle it as a young adult. In fact, I craved it, as it helped me to look at some strong things in life from the safety of my armchair.
    I find our current outlook on life to be unrelentingly suspicious, fearful, and preparing for the worst in people and situations. I think this limits our experiences, and certainly curtails our abilities to be surprised, elevated, curious or adventurous about the world and its enormous potentialities; our scope becomes narrow and overly protective. I get surprised by assumptions that people’s motives are questionable, even bad; I assume the opposite: with the odds in my favor, I believe most people work hard to be the best people they can be, and will return your wallet full of cash to you when they find it in the street. It’s happened to me, several times.

  2. Thanks for your response! I often wonder where to “draw the line.” My parents were in the camp of “as long as you want to read it, read it,” parenting. Most of my teachers throughout my schooling (I’ve now attended 27 different schools, start to present) seemed terrified at the mention of sex/pregnancy/etc, at least until I was in college. However, I see it as becoming increasingly common place, both in YA lit as well as in tv, movies, music, etc. I definitely agree with the idea that it’s such an important part of growing up, it seems remiss not to include it in what they’re reading. Though the mention of sex and a full-blown sex scene seem like two very different things to me, which is where my curiosity stems in determining where to draw the line. Especially as, when reading YA lit, I see vastly different takes on what is/is not acceptable to include in literature for the teen crowd. I think the point you make is key: how are the students responding to/discussing it?

    Again, thank you for your feedback, and I hope that you give E & P a try sometime!
    –JMF

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