Chasing a demon in A Wizard of Earthsea

I’m not generally a fan of fantasy. but I really loved The Wizard of Earthsea, which I found a wonderful parable. The story is about a young man making his way in the world, learning his craft, which happens to be wizardry, and struggling mightily to overcome something of his own making. He is struggling in a literal or literary sense to overcome his own inner demons. At books end he is able to “name it” and the demons name is Ged, he himself. This overcoming his demon is his own inner struggle to become a fully functioning adult. So once he names his demon, tames his demon–he becomes whole, fully Ged, an adult.
We all must struggle to overcome our inner demons, our doubts, fears; we run from this responsibility–and yet the demon will always find us, until one day we turn the tables on it and chase it, fearless of what will happen. One can not conquer running from fear. By chasing it, by moving directly at our demon, we weaken it; it is the one always running with its shadow face looking back. Finally it runs out of room, i.e. earthsea–we track it down and it is so enervated from the chase, we defeat it, and make ourselves whole, and fully adult. This is a wonderful coming of age parable. I would love to use this for a literature circle with other coming of age books, perhaps a book about a boy or a girl struggling while studying for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This novel feels ceremonial in that way. There are aboriginal stories, native American stories I believe about children going into the wilderness and fending for themselves–that  might also work here. It would be interesting for students to consider at various stages of the book what Ged is chasing or being chased by. Le Guin does a masterful job of keeping this demon vague and foreboding enough that we are never sure what it really is.



Deadline by Chris Crutcher

deadline Crutcher’s novel is the story of an adolescent boy who learns that he has a terminal illness. It starts off pretty much with the protagonist, Ben Wolf, getting his diagnosis. We then experience his final year of life, which is also his senior year of high school, through his eyes, while he makes his best attempt to live every day as if it is his last. The catch; he doesn’t tell anyone that he is dying, and refuses to be treated for his “blood disease.” When you enter into this world that Crutcher has created, Ben’s world, you cannot look at the story through a magnifying glass, but take it at face value. That is what I felt while reading it. Even though there are so many details not thoroughly explained and so many storylines that may seemed chopped, the focus of the story is how the protagonist chooses to take control of the limited time he has left, and experience things he probably would not have if he were not going into it with his own expiration date in mind. He joins the football team, which in itself is a major feat since we are informed of his small build, he talks and begins to date the girl of his dreams, and expresses his opinion all the time on every issue, even at the expense of his history teacher. Even though the main story line is Ben’s impending death, there are so many other issues that are brought to light in the story: mental illness, rape, molestation, suicide, religion. I think that this book would best be taught to a senior class due to the subject matter. While reading I thought of activities that could be partnered with the novel, and I think it would be nice to give the students some power by letting them rewrite any part of the story. I would be compelled to have Ben try some course of treatment for his “blood disease” giving him a shot to live. Also setting goals. Ben uses his limited time by making a list of things he wants to accomplish and books he wants to read. Another activity would be to have the students make a list of their own goals for the school year, and then have a follow up at the end of the year to see how many they accomplished. Deadline is a novel that I intend on recommending, because I think it is a well written story that can touch anyone who reads it. AH

Notes on Tuck Everlasting et al

This is my first (David Breitkopf’s)  blog entry on an  independent study class I’ve been taking on  YA novels. This is an area of literature where I can say unabashedly that I am poorly read in. This summer I made a slight dent into the vast library of YA novels. I enjoyed most of the books not only for the stories but for the quality of the writing. The novels varied widely or as I was about to write, wildly,  everything from Roald Dahl’s Matllda to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea.  

I hope to write a series of entries about the books, a total of 8 (I’ve read 7 to date)  that I will read. I realize that these  entries may lack the immediacy that comes with writing a blog entry as one is still in the midst of the novel, a hot-off-the-presses feeling of one’s reading. That has  to do with my Luddite allergies acting up as regards to blogging on this site. But my olfactory seems to be willing to accept some new machinery these days. Lastly, my ultimate aim in these blog entries is to discuss how I might teach these novels to a class of high schoolers. I will endeavor to put forth those notions as well as my general impressions of the books. The first novel I want to discuss at length is the last  I finished: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. A lovely fairy tale, lyrically written, and centering around a grand moral dilemma. I liked how the novel casually begins, giving us a presentiment of something occurring between the three characters and the locus–Treegap Wood, the hub for these three spokes. The story of the spring or the fountain of eternity comes to light only when Winnie Forster happens to meet Jesse Tuck. That moment is the catalyst for everything that follows, and it all happens in rapid succession–Winnie is kidnapped and taken back to the Tuck’s rather unkempt house. The story seeps out about the spring that Jesse prevented her from drinking from.

Within the novel, characters who are aware of the fountain have varying attitudes towards it. The mysterious man in the yellow suit, tries to make money off it, but pays for his hucksterism with his life. 

But the Tuck family all have varying degrees of understanding and attitudes about the spring. The father, who by the end is likely close to 200 years old, is the most opposed to having anyone else discover and drink from the spring. He explains to Winnie  eloquently about the importance of death, getting her to understand that death is absolutely necessary for life to continue otherwise there would be no room to move in the world. The Tucks in their eternity feel outside of the world. They can’t die but they must keep their immortality a secret. Miles who wants to make something of himself, loses his family because his wife gets older but he doesn’t. 

Jesse prevents Winnie from drinking the water, but later after they became friends and a bit flirtatious, he gives her a vial of the water for her to drink when she turns 17 so they can marry and always be the same age. On impulse to save a toad, Winnie ends up pouring the water over the toad, which we learn in the final chapter has survived Winnie, who lived long, was a wife and a mother, but died before the Tucks returned to the area after many years to find it substantially changed. 

An obvious question, I might ask students is what would you do if you had the choice of eternal life? Would you drink? Or would you, like Angus Tuck long for moving on even if it includes death? To drink or not to drink. The complexity of the dilemma in part depends on one’s age. Jesse is more amenable to the idea. He is young and ever youthful. Tuck the father, and Mae are tired and long for change. The man in the yellow suit, is avaricious and perhaps wants to simply sell the liquid to become rich. 

Ultimately Winnie chooses to not drink the water, though anointing her toad with everlasting life. 

This novel would work well as an anchor novel for a unit on life and death, or the life cycle, how we as humans change physically, mentally, emotionally as we age. 


Dr’s Prescription: Read this book

Sarah Mazetti, June 9, 2015

Sarah Mazetti, June 9, 2015

From The New Yorker blog: an article about bibliotherapy. Those of us who read a lot already know what books do for our sense of well-being, and not just because they relieve us of day-to-day concerns. The neuroscience suggests that reading fiction builds empathy. This article suggests that reading fiction also helps us work through big issues in our lives.

For instance, the blog post’s author, Ceridwen Dovey, was worried about how she would fare when faced with the death of a loved one. A bibliotherapist suggested a few novels, and Dovey found herself reading Calvino, Narayan and Saramago.

Hidden in the middle of the article: news about a book of prescriptions for young readers, adapted from the version for adults, The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies.

I’m eager to see what the authors recommend for teens dealing with the usual set of issues (I’m not popular, my best friend is dating the person I’m in love with, my parents don’t get me, I wish I was someone else, I have to hide my real self). I’m even more curious about which unexpected issues the authors will uncover.

Sherman Alexie on sad books

From my other blog. Be sure to read Gurdon’s article and Alexie’s post.

Lizzie Ross

banned booksIn a 2011 Wall Street Journal blog post, Sherman Alexie explains why YA books that address real issues of violence, death, sexuality, and other horrors need to be available for teen readers.

Alexie was responding to an earlier WSJarticle, by Meghan Cox Gurdon, decrying the prevalence of “dark” themes in YA lit and positing a troubling dichotomy:

This is an old dialectic—purity vs. despoliation, virtue vs. smut—but for families with teenagers, it is also everlastingly new. 

While I find myself (gasp!) agreeing with two of Gurdon’s points (books for teens are more explicitly violent and sexual than they used to be, and parents ought to be aware of what books their children read — as well as what shows or films they watch, and what video games they play), and while I will probably never read most of the books she references, I want to argue with her analysis of the…

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1421178042197Just a quick note to those who’ve found us, by whatever route, and are following. We love your feedback and suggestions. If there’s any book you’d like to recommend to us, please do so. We’ll happily read and review, as time allows.

Meanwhile, enjoy summer (or winter, if you’re in the southern hemisphere), keep reading, and keep in touch.


The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders

In middle school, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, was one of my favorite books. When I read it again this year I was less impressed. Then I did some research and found out that S.E. Hinton published this book when she was only 17 years old and then I was impressed again.

The novel centers around two main groups of kids, the greasers and the socs. Socs is short for socials, as in the mainstream popular kids. The Outsiders is told from the point of view of Ponyboy Curtis, a 14 year old boy who lives with his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop. Ponyboy’s best friend is Johnny Cade. Johnny and Ponyboy have both had hard lives considering how young they are. Ponyboy’s parents are both dead and Johnny’s parents don’t care about him at all. The friendship these two boys share is one of the most compelling things about this novel. Both Johnny and Ponyboy have gotten beaten up by the socs. In fact, most of the greasers have gotten into fights with the socs. But this is a suburban world where gangs and gang fights are all too common and this is one of the most realistic aspects of the novel. The Outsiders is full of many themes such as violence, friendship, isolation and loss.

Johnny Cade is the gang’s pet and possibly my favorite character. Everyone loves him despite the fact that he can be somewhat pathetic at times. One thing I love about Johnny is that he has a favorite poem and the fact that he loves poetry is one of the strongest aspects of his character. I love characters who love poetry. Johnny likes to tell Ponyboy that “nothing gold can stay”. This is also the title of the Robert Frost poem that Johnny loves. And this becomes a central theme of the novel and of Johnny’s character as well.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Posted by Naptharoe