The Outsiders: “For Teenagers, About Teenagers, Written by a Teenager”

The OutsidersAccording to a New York Times essay written by Dale Peck in 2007, The Outsiders was an instant hit when published in 1967 and has remained an all-time best seller for more than forty years. I believe that these facts say a great deal.

Although The Outsiders has been criticized for its “sometimes workmanlike prose” and intermittent clichés, such as, perhaps, the novel turning out to be Ponyboy’s crucial English theme, these elements might also be considered those which make the novel authentically Y.A. (Peck, 2007). That is, because The Outsiders was written for teenagers, about teenagers and by a teenager, it is distinctly reflective of the adolescent experience. In fact, the authenticity resulting from these circumstances is said to have profoundly influenced subsequent Y.A. works because after the publication of The Outsiders, young readers began to insist that Y.A. fiction mirror their realities. This meant that from 1967 on, Y.A. fiction would not only need to recount the teenage experience, but recount it in a voice that rang true to young readers.

As for the so-called clichés, these may be considered amateurish, or they may be considered reimaginings of various aspects of quintessential American stories (think “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story”). And given that the novel’s author, S. E. Hinton, was only fifteen when she began writing the novel, the term “amateurish” hardly packs a punch. No matter what its toughest critics say, the popularity of The Outsiders speaks for itself. Hinton has clearly given the people what they wanted.


Mockingbirds: Symbols of innocence


To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960

In the sleepy town of Maycomb (Alabama), set in the middle of The Great Depression, Harper Lee brings about timeless themes and skepticism of race, morality and ethics, feminism, and social class. The story is narrated by Scout Finch; a rambunctious, intelligent, and curious child. The majority of the plot revolves around the trial that is about to take place in which her father, Atticus, is defending an African-American man named Tom Robinson, much to the dismay of the small country-town community. Through Scout’s perspective, we are invited to see the world through a child’s eyes that bring to light many devastating truths about society that still resonate with us today.

Taking place in the Jim Crow south, Atticus’s decision to defend Tom Robinson warrants the immediate disproval of those around him. However, as a man who is determined to “walk in others’ shoes”, Atticus empathizes with Tom and does his best to protect him, even going as far as sitting in front of the jailhouse faced by a mob of angry men. As the trial progresses, the hatred and racism of the town is exposed as ultimately Tom is rendered guilty, though there is no sufficient evidence that he ever committed a crime. The jury unjustly sides with Mayella Ewell because she is a white woman, and in the end, Tom Robinson is sent to jail and later gunned down (several times) for trying to escape.

Throughout the novel, Atticus preaches morality to Scout and her brother Jem, and is determined to get them to understand how they should treat people. In addition to the court case, Lee introduces us to Arthur “Boo” Radley, the local recluse who has been locked away in his house for years and only comes out to place small gifts for the children in the tree. Jem, Scout, and their friend Dill are convinced that the Radley house is haunted, and spend much of their time trying to get him to come out of the house so they can see him. At the end of the novel, Boo saves Jem’s life by killing Bob Ewell, and Scout finally sees him as a human being, as opposed to a monster. Although Scout quickly warms up to him, Boo returns to his house never to be seen again.

In the novel, Atticus states that “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”, which serves as a metaphor to the world around them. Mockingbirds, as a representation of harmless, innocent creatures, can be seen as the many instances that occur in the novel: the way that African Americans are treated, the way that Boo Radley is treated by the gossiping neighbors and even by the children (at one point) taunting him, and Jem and Scout’s vulnerability to a racist world. In the novel, Atticus teaches us powerful lessons on how we should all be more empathetic towards one another; this being an imperative value that still rings true in present society.

I could not find the full movie online, but I have attached the trailer for the documentary “Hey, Boo” on Harper Lee.


Dave at Night: A Departure for Gail Carson Levine

Dave at NightGail Carson Levine is known for writing fairy-tale–inspired children’s books such as Ella Enchanted and The Princess Tales. But you’ll only finds traces of a fairy tale in Dave at Night. Levine has said: “Dave at Night is historical fiction, my only novel without a shred of fantasy.”

Instead, Levine saw Dave at Night as an opportunity to imagine her father’s childhood. Her father had been an orphan at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum on 137th Street and Amsterdam Avenue during the 1920s, but he never spoke of his time there. So after his death in 1986, Levine researched the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the time period more broadly, thereby giving us Dave at Night.

The story of Dave at Night is told from the perspective of the spirited, trouble-making, eleven-year-old Dave Caros. Dave is living in a Jewish community in the Lower East Side in October 1926 when his only living parent, his father, dies. (Dave’s mother died in childbirth, an event, Dave jokes, resulting from his earliest attempts at making trouble.) Soon after his father’s death, Dave’s brother Gideon goes to live with their Uncle Jack, leaving Dave with their evil stepmother, Ida, who does not waste any time in abandoning Dave at the Hebrew Home for Boys. From the very beginning, Levine does a remarkable job of revealing 1920s New York through the eyes of an impoverished yet sunny boy. Dave marvels at the automobile in which he rides to his father’s funeral, perhaps not altogether aware of what has happened and what will happen.

When he enters the Hebrew Home for Boys for the first time, Dave describes it as colder than outside. Later that day, at lunch, Dave describes the meat he and his peers are served as “gristly,” and the reader begins to see how the boys’ days are tightly regimented, just as the days at the actual Hebrew Orphan Asylum once were. Not to mention the fact that the asylum’s superintendent, Mr. Bloom (a.k.a. Mr. Doom), terrorizes the boys on a daily basis. Levine has an uncanny ability to set detailed scenes, using only an authentically adolescent voice. The action, too, matches the psyche of a daring adolescent boy, as Dave quickly finds a way to slip out of the asylum by night.

Through Dave’s nights out, Levine artfully weaves the history of the Harlem Renaissance—with all its great writers, painters and musicians—into the novel. On his first night out, Dave meets an elderly Jewish man named Solomon Gruber, who takes him to a rent party on 136th Street, claiming to be his grandfather. And it’s not long before Solly begins to actually fill that role in Dave’s mind. At the rent party, Dave befriends a wealthy African American girl named Irma Lee Packer. Dave is mesmerized by Irma Lee’s beauty and kindness, and she and Dave quickly become the best of friends. Although the doom and gloom of the Hebrew Home for Boys may seem to contrast Dave’s colorful nights in Harlem, there are some sunlit moments there. As Dave becomes closer to each of the “elevens” (the orphans of his age), Dave learns the meaning of friendship and loyalty.

It’s with the help of all of his new friends that Dave makes just the right amount of trouble – an amount that might make life at the Hebrew Home for Boys tolerable. Dave at Night does not want for history, introspection, action or character diversity. With much skill, Levine writes a historically accurate novel featuring a round, lovable narrator, a varying plot and a wide array of wicked and endearing characters.


The Film Adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now

Being the sucker that I am for film adaptations of books I’ve read, I settled into my bed one evening not too long ago and streamed How I Live Now, directed by Kevin Macdonald and starring Saoirse Ronan.

Though the film is not the most faithful of plot and character adaptations (Osbert is omitted entirely, and a few things [spoilers excluded] have been moved around), they really captured the tone of war and loss. Because of that, the film is pretty awesome. 

Take a look at the trailer below and see if it captures your interest:



Out of the Dust: A Mine of Teaching Opportunities

PDC – While reading Out of the Dust I couldn’t stop thinking of the unit themes or lessons that I could create if Out of the Dust was the anchor text.


The amazing things about Out of the Dust are:

  • Time Period: Set during the Great Depression, this can be an opportunity for Cross-Curricular teaching. The students can learn the historical events of the Great Depression in social science. Maybe even learn what is a dust storm is or how it is created in science class. The time period is also a great chance for teachers to hit some Common Core Standards with included informational text, or a documentary into the lesson.
  • Free Verse: The entire novel is written in free-verse poetry. This is a great sage way into a poetry unit, or using Out of the Dust as an anchor text for a poetry unit. Students can explore writing free-verse, the history behind it and the impact free-verse had on poetry and writing.
  • The Story Itself: Out of the Dust is full of complex characters, an interesting plot and the conflict is gripping.

This is truly a novel that can be taught in so many ways and can give teachers a chance to work together cross subjects.


You should definitely visit the The ABC of It: Why Children’s Book Matter Exhibition

abc image

Besides the fact that it’s free and totally interesting, as an English or future English educator for adolescent, I believe that appreciation for all literature is essential. The exhibit, The ABC of It: Why Children’s Book Matter is beautifully decorated with illustrations of famous children novels, including Alice in Wonderland. The exhibit gives history about the development of children book, and the impact it has on everyone, not just children. Its located in the famous and historical Stephen A. Schwarzman library at 42nd, which makes it pretty easy to get to from any location in New York. Also I would like to mention that the exhibit has been extended until September 7th, 2014. JA

“Please lie about this book”

Made it to last night’s book launch. Results:

Lizzie Ross

wewereliars e. lockhart,  We Were Liars (2014)

This post’s title is what Lockhart wrote when she signed my copy of We Were Liars at her book launch last night.

I’m usually willing to comply with authors’ requests, but any lie I told would be a tip off to the truth, because you’d know I was lying.

So: two truths and a lie (your task is to spot which is which).

1. At last night’s book launch, Lockhart had TRY written on the back of her right hand, and AGAIN on the back of her left. She was quirky, lively, at times silly, and never uncool. She was happy to sign not just my copy of this book, but also my copy of Disreputable History (on which she added “WOOF” in a speech bubble coming from the basset hound’s mouth). She is funny, but she can also be serious. Her summer reading list includes AS…

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YA Lit Rebels: With and Without Causes

Hi all! Again, down the rabbit hole of YA Lit. . .

As I was reading through another stack of library books, I noticed that there was another trend that seemed to repeat (and I bet it’s going to come as a HUGE surprise to you teachers/parents/siblings/etc out there): REBELS! And all kinds of rebels, too–rebels that rebel and then feel bad, rebels that rebel and don’t feel bad, rebels that rebel for a cause, and rebels that rebel for, well, what seems to be the fun of it.

So the classic rebel could easily be Katniss in The Hunger Games (and probably some of her cohorts, for that matter). Although reluctant to be the symbol of the revolution between the Capitol and the districts of Panem, who could forget the iconic image when she twirls in that dress on Cesar’s stage, igniting into a fiery mockingjay, sparking the fire that lights the rebellion? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, *please* get thee to the library!)

However, it’s not like Katniss has a copyright on being a rebel. In fact, there are some really unique and intriguing YA books out there that deal with various kinds of rebels, too.

In terms of rebels regretting what they’d done (and indeed rebelling against their own rebellions!), one particularly interesting fantasy series is Cate Tiernan’s Immortal Beloved. Clearly aimed for the older YA set, it follows “Nasty,” one of the immortals who’s lived her life as a ne’er do well–and has not only not done well, she’s done downright vile. As her immortal friends have become increasingly oppressive, obsessive and generally dark magic crazy, she decides she needs to escape. Enter a special retreat for immortals who want to try to resolve their issues, recover who they are as people, and learn to be generally better. The holistic retreat is a shock for Nasty–but as the series progresses, her rebellious nature ultimately leads her towards awareness and improvement, rather than simply acting selfishly and exclusively for her personal benefit. This is a very well-written series, and a very engaging set of rebels!

The Secret to Lying

Following the fantasy rebel theme, though a little more lightly, is Todd Mitchell’s The Secret to Lying. It follows 15-year-old James, an afterthought and general nerd in his previous school, to a new school for the gifted. There, he decides to reinvent himself, to rebel against the stereotype he had been pigeon-holed as, and to spread his wings as a new stereotype (hmmm.): the cool kid. Not a bad idea, but his reliance on creatively retelling the truth leads to not only a humorous/uncomfortable string of events, but also functions as a warning to the reader. This is an interesting page-turner of a story, and speaks to the idea of rebelling gone not quite as well as originally hoped and intended.

Royalty has it’s place rebelling in YA lit, too.

And it rebels with a major cause. Rae Carsons’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns series features a 16-year-old princess-turned-queen protagonist who rebels against neighboring tyrants on behalf of her people. She also rebels (though perhaps inadvertently) against the Disney princess stereotype, as a self-described heavily overweight new queen. Her tendency to rebel both from societal norms and gender norms adds intrigue to a page-turning series.

Oh, but before you conclude that rebellion is a thing of fantasy, brace yourself! It also has a very strong hold in realistic YA fiction.


John Greene’s Looking for Alaska follows Miles Halter as he matures into a rebel against societal norms with his new friends, chases the girl, and tries to learn what’s important in life at his boarding school. Expect cigarettes, swearing, sex, violence and alcohol. (For some reason, elements of Miles remind me of a certain Holden Caulfield).

Finally, Craig Silvey’s tour de force Jasper Jones follows 13-year-old Charlie Bucktin, brought to the brink by the heavy weight of a major secret, a complicated family life, a racist town, and a budding romance. Ultimately, he rebels against his family, against societal norms, even against the law. . . and becomes (arguably) a better–but definitely a happier–person for it. This book, seriously, made me laugh until I cried–talk about beautifully written dialogue!

And these, my friends, are just the tippy-top of some of the YA Lit rebellion canon, from what I can tell. Anyone else read some good rebellions lately? What are your thoughts about teaching rebellion in classrooms? How much is ok? How much topples over the edge? And why oh why is rebellion such a popular YA lit topic, anyway?