Cynthia Kadohata’s Work Reviewed and Highly Recommended

kira-kiraAfter our discussion of Cynthia Kadohata’s kira-kira, it was clear to me that kira-kira was among our favorite novels of the semester. This is especially significant when you consider that we’ve read several Y.A. classics and bestsellers from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Outsiders. Kadohata’s prose is simple yet profound, and her story is universal yet infused with Japanese culture. Not to mention the fact that her protagonist, an elementary school-aged middle child named Katie, is perfectly loveable. Kira-kira deals with topics as difficult as growing up Japanese-American in 1960s Georgia and caring for a terminally ill sibling, who, it should be said, is Katie’s beautiful and charismatic sister and best friend, while also dealing with topics as commonplace as parent-child conflict. It is the sort of Newbery Medal-winning novel that might be enjoyed and analyzed in a middle school classroom or just as easily swallowed whole on a rainy afternoon, no matter the reader’s age.

the thing about luck

Kadohata’s most recent publication—the National Book Award-winning The Thing About Luck—has all the charm of kira-kira. Its 12-year-old, Japanese-American protagonist, Summer, is much like kira-kira’s Katie. In fact, you might think of Summer as an older Katie—one who is sometimes embarrassed by her Japanese-American grandparents in her pursuit of the attention of a cute teenage boy. But Summer’s story takes place during the wheat-harvesting season in the Midwest, rather than in and around the Georgian poultry farms. Like Katie, Summer makes mistakes, and her family is rather poor. As a result, Summer has to find a way to turn her family’s luck around—an endeavor that leads to an exciting finale.


Down These Mean Streets Reviewed: Hate, Heart and Self-Discovery

Down These Mean Streets, Piri Thomas, 1967Down These Mean Streets

Warning: This book contains extreme language, violence, drug use and scenes of a sexual nature. Reader discretion is advised.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its explicit content, Down These Mean Streets seems honest and in earnest. It is the memoir of author Piri Thomas, a man who knew that “since the Reconstruction days following the Civil War, racists in white hoods or dressed otherwise have worked very hard to return things to their version of the good ol’ plantation days,” but also believed that “love [was] the barrio’s greatest strength” (334-335). These ideas are among the many rooted in Thomas’s memoir.

The story begins in 1941 when Piri is just twelve years old and, as Thomas writes, “the Great Hunger called Depression was still down on Harlem” (8). Thomas’s authorial voice is natural—born in the streets—and his diction seems to echo the language of struggle and strife. On page one, for instance, Thomas writes: “The streets of Harlem make an unreal scene of frightened silence at 2 a.m. Like everything got a layoff from noise and hassling. Only the rumbling of a stray car passing by or the shy foraging of a cat or dog make the quietness bearable (emphasis added).” In addition to this skillful use of language, Thomas peppers the memoir with Spanish words, giving it its own sound.

At just twelve years of age, Piri, whose mother describes him as a Puerto Rican moreno (which translates to dark brown, almost black), begins to consciously experience racism. The Italian boys on his block call him “n*****” and pick fights with him. Piri even feels isolated on the basis of color in his own home because his mother and his siblings are several shades lighter than him. Only Piri’s father’s skin is as dark as his own, but Piri cannot connect with him because he is distant and rejects his own African blood. Although Piri initially clings to the idea that he is “Puerto Rican” and not black, one of his friends, Brew, engages him in a serious conversation about his appearance and his racial identity, causing the two to venture down South. While the trip helps Piri better understand his identity, it sharpens his hatred of white people and the pain they have caused both in his lifetime and throughout history.

Piri’s pain and rage drive him to street fighting, drugs and armed robbery—a downward spiral that culminates when he is sent to prison for shooting a police officer at twenty-two years of age. Yet Piri’s heart, which is often conceived as steadfastness in conflict despite its going way beyond this, is not exhausted by the hardship he endures.

Down These Means Streets is a tour de force, which touches on subjects as great and universal as racism, alienation, poverty, hate, love, friendship and sexuality and others as specific as the WPA, Jim Crow law, the hypo-descent rule, “passing” and the Nation of Islam. It is a gripping story, a literary phenomenon and, as written by The New York Times Book Review, “a linguistic event.”


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.


Top Ten-Books or Short Literary Works for Adolescent Readers-PB

Top Ten Books or Short Fiction Stories
I recommend for adolescents to read

1. “An American House,” novel by Paul Bland
2. “The Book Thief,” novel by Markus Zuzack
3. “The Diary of Ann Frank,” diary by Ann Frank
4. “Maus,” graphic novel by Art Spiegelman
5. “Raisin in the Sun,” play by Lorraine Hansberry
6. “Of Mice and Men,” novel by John Steinbeck
7. “The Pearl,” novel by John Steinbeck
8. “A Christmas Story,” short story by Truman Capote
9. “A Diamond Guitar,” short story by Truman Capote
10. “The Yellow Wallpaper,” short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Hunger Games

hunger gamesI finally read The Hunger Games! Now I know what all the fuss was about. The plot unfolds at just the right pace. As the New York Times’ Stanley Fish wrote, “you’re always on the hook.” And if you have (or had) an experience like mine, you form such a bond with the protagonist – Katniss Everdeen – that it becomes almost impossible to put the book down without knowing her fate. Although Haymitch Abernathy (Katniss’ mentor) at one point calls her “sullen,” “hostile” and having “about as much charm as a dead slug,” Katniss is honest – at least in her behind-the-scenes dealings – and as the reader, you somehow understand just about every move she makes. When she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Games, for instance, you might think: I would do the same for my little brother or sister. And as for me, when Katniss’ feelings for Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne begin confusing her, well, let’s just say I’ve been there…

Another beautiful and relatable aspect of the story is Katniss’ friendship with Rue. Rue is the answer to Katniss’ loneliness. She is sweet as pie and reminiscent of Katniss’ sister, Prim. I was heartbroken when she died, but at the same time, given my strong alliance with Katniss, I couldn’t help but feel relieved because in order for Katniss to survive the Games, Rue needed to die. But Katniss doesn’t seem at all relieved. She genuinely mourns the loss of her friend, and though risky, decides to honor Rue following her death.

Katniss “decorates” Rue’s body in flowers not only to honor her, but also to take revenge on the “Capitol.” In doing this, Katniss defies the norms of the Games outright, but this would not be her last act of defiance.

In all honesty, the Capitol’s reaction to Katniss’ final rebellion has made me uneasy about reading the second book. In a way, I feel lucky that Katniss walked away from the Games, and I wish that she could return home and put the Games behind her, but I know this won’t happen… Okay, okay, I admit: I’ll probably pick up the next book in no time, but still I’m apprehensive. Is it just me?

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’d like to think that first of all, Katniss could live happily ever after and second of all, the world would never come to this. It may surprise you to learn that the Games themselves upset me less than the socioeconomic disparities between the “Districts.” The extreme hunger the people of Districts 11 and 12 endure on a daily basis was so upsetting to me, I think, because it’s not farfetched like the Games; it’s not off-base. Poverty and hunger are real, observable problems in today’s world. So, as I reflect on this book, a desire to address existing inequalities expands in me. Perhaps this is the lens through which I’ll present The Hunger Games if I use it in one of my classes someday.

Posted by SD

Top 10 YA Fantasy

Breathtaking Fantasy Landscapes & Scenery

LD: I found choosing a top list the hardest thing to do, having so little YA reading experience to draw on. I chose this because of…wait for it…the covers! No, just kidding…the artwork does help, but it was the throughline of fantasy that made me feel I might work my way through this list for fun this summer. See if I can get a short handle on fantasy options in YA. Does anyone know any of these titles or authors? Forgive the stab in the dark…

Obsessed with Dystopias: Satisfying Your Reading Needs with a Top 50 List

Dystopian Fiction is my thing. For real-sies. Some of my favorite adult novels fall under this umbrella (The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World, to name a few). I even took an elective in college entitled “Apocalyptic Literature.”

That being said, I must be out of the loop because I haven’t heard of quite of few of the YA dystopian novels that make this list. I’m super pumped the author of this blog gave a nod to Lois Lowry’s The Giver series, as it has been widely considered to be one of the first YA dystopian novels published. You might also notice that Meg Rosoff’s How I live Now was given a nice little nod as well.

So if you’re suffering from Divergent withdrawal and need something to get you through those lonely book-less nights, take a look at this list and tell me what you think.