Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Do You Say About YA?

I'm still in the middle of computer woes, which won't be straightened out before the end of next week. This is terrible timing, but I'm sure I'll live. I didn't expect a monitor flicker to be a month's worth of bother; now I'll have to be more understanding of how long it takes other people to get up and running after a computer issue!

But this is kinda perfect for a question that I can post here via phone:

What do you talk about when you talk about YA?

I'm looking for a word, and I don't know what it is. A definition that's not in the dictionary. A justification that shouldn't be needed. A turn of phrase. A feeling.

What do you say? What do you associate, positive or negative, with YA?

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

A Countess Below StairsMy airplane and clearing-that-shelf reading this week has been A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson (Penguin - Speak). I thought this was a YA book--and there's no reason it can't be read by a young adult, in my opinion--but it felt like the sort of book that's always been in the adult section. I don't know how I acquired this book, so I can't really say more.

Anna is a countess, and the sort of remarkable person who is kind, strong, and humble, despite a very privileged upbringing. But, when the Bolsheviks do their thing, she and her family must flee to England, losing touch with their servant (who's carrying the non-entendre family jewels). While a family friend has helped younger brother Petyr find a place at a respected boarding school, Anna and her cousin, Prince Sergei, end up in service, Sergei as a driver and Anna as a maid of many different responsibilities.

The Earl of Westholme's household staff are discomfited by the new arrival; they see through Anna's disguise and resent the intrusion on their space--but Anna is careful to fill her new role as one born to do so, and after winning a grudging respect, proceeds to charm the household. At least, all except for Muriel Hardwicke, the earl's common-born fiance, who has some unfortunate feelings about eugenics... But, if the family, the staff, and the Earl turn away Miss Hardwicke, will they have to sell their home and scatter to the winds? And is there any hope for Anna and the Earl's star-crossed love?

The stylized language and Anna's steadfast, grown-up Pollyanna-ish personality make this book loads of fun, though there are moments where information is deliberately held back from readers so the denouement can be fetchingly unraveled all at once. Problems with punctuation and spacing, particularly commas, happen often enough to distract, though not quite often enough to warrant avoiding this book if a sweet romance, not in-period but in a country atmosphere like Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, is up your alley. If you have an e-reader, I might recommend an e-version for the fun of quickly and easily looking up rarely-used words and those used in uncommon ways.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jane by April Lindner

JaneAs I write this on a teeny tiny cell phone screen, FedEx is probably circling my office with a new monitor, but not yet with the requisite parts to run said monitor. This has thrown a great big ugly wrench into my "get stuff done" plans, but has been very helpful in prompting me to continue the great shelf clean-out of 2011.

One of the most recent picks in said book downsizing was Jane by April Lindner (Hachette--Poppy). I was thinking that I might have some issues with a retelling of Jane Eyre, given that I have issues with Jane Eyre; while I did have some Jane issues, I should probably frame this review with the note that I wasn't reading with an eye toward putting the book down, counting pages. Instead, I stayed up past my bedtime two nights, something I can't justify very often, and something I tend to not do when my eyes feel like raisins well before I'd normally be asleep.

I think that retellings are difficult beasts. In retelling, it's easy to get mired down in the original storyline, or to lose the emotional thread in a retelling that goes further astray. The best of the latter are probably not so much retellings--just stories inspired by the originals.

I wasn't excited to find out that Mr. Rochester in Jane has been transformed into a(n) (probably) in-his-thirties rock star, but this worked far better than I thought it would, because it a) gave Mr. Rochester--well, Jane's Nico Rathburne--a reason to have been a bad boy beyond "I felt like it," b) gave Nico a (better) reason to be comfortable with famous friends and not-so-famous staff, and c) mitigated some of his neediness and disbelief that he could be loved for himself, as he's had fans of music and merely image.

Nineteen-year-old Jane is somewhat less transformed, coming to the Rathburne household as a nanny. I have always found Jane, in the original and here, hard to connect with. She feels dour and terse, and maybe too forgiving of that older man in her life.

Before I go off on the updating tangent, Jane has a pleasant length and pacing. That might sound like an odd compliment, but if you've read Jane Eyre and thought the part with St. John would never end, you might understand what I mean. There's much less Gothic horror and more of the traditional romance structure in Jane.

While I'm pleased with the update, I also feel that it magnifies some issues. For example, Jane and Nico's dialog sounds old-fashioned and odd. We don't get as much of Jane's development and feelings of desperate solitude, even when she's not sure where she'll spend her first night alone; she has siblings, and she must enforce separation from them and their unhealthy relationships. Jane also remembers her parents' less-than-perfect parenting skills, but it doesn't have as much impact in flashbacks and memories as it might if it directly affected her present problems. the attic, well, in today's world, adult protective services would probably be involved, and obtaining a divorce in this day and age, in the United States (where this story is set) would not be unduly scrutinized. I have no particular thoughts on--or maybe I find the good and bad balance in--Nico's ultimate karmic "punishment." But maybe I'm really missing issues of faith and morality, social class, and gender roles that by virtue of time period can't be the thematic hinges of this Jane, just a multitude of factors in personality.

I enjoyed the romance focus of Jane, as well as the streamlined story. I'd recommend Jane for those looking for the same. I suspect that teen Jane Eyre fans would like Jane, and those who've struggled with Jane Eyre might be able to return to the original after reading the bones in Jane. Finally, Jane is, I suspect, an entry into the field of "new adult" literature, filling in the gap of protagonists between age 18-ish and adult, and I can't fault that in any way.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True StoryWell, oops.

I don't use netGalley all that much; I've got a lot of requests lined up, but because I have a hard time (lately, at least) getting to a computer where I have Adobe Digital Editions, I try not to pick anything up unless I know, say, I'll be taking a trip, where I'd rather be carrying one e-reader than several real books. Also, because the ARCs expire off my device (and off my computer), I forget to review what I've read, and then I no longer have the file... And shoot, because I have about 20 half-written reviews waiting for me to polish them up and post them, and I want to get to it!

Thus, it's only after at least a couple of weeks that I stumbled upon a reminder that I read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Clarion), based on a true story about a boy whose village in Sudan is attacked in 1985. His teacher tells him to run--and after that, he's on the run, on his own, with stragglers from his village, with other boys he meets at refugee camps. He sees gruesome sights along is journey, and there's a wonderful, wonderful moment when Salva and his group run across another group in the desert, and must decide whether to save them--or save themselves. (I can imagine, say, a fifth-grade class really debating what he should do, and how many threads for discussion open from there.) Despite all that's taken away from him, Salva survives, and helps others to do the same.

Interwoven in alternating chapters is Nya's story, set in 2008. She walks for hours each day to carry water to her home, and for part of the year, her family travels far away to dig for water, competing with wild animals and other desperate families. Her younger sibling gets sick. Her family can't earn any money. So, when a strange man shows up in her village with plans to build a well, she has no reason to believe that there's been water just a few feet from her front door all this time.

Eventually, as you might expect, Salva and Nya's paths cross. While I figured out how they would early on, I don't think this distracted or detracted from the story, and if a reader doesn't pick up on hints, I don't think it will ruin the reading experience, but rather, I think it will be a satisfying surprise.

It's really difficult to present history and current events to middle grade kids; their worldview is still very much in development--and I have to say that I learned some information about what was going on in the world when I was little, and about things I've been conveniently able to not know much about. I think A Long Walk to Water is a good introduction to the topic for middle grade readers (who most likely won't encounter it anywhere else in their public school curriculum), because it's simple in its telling, but it doesn't seem like a gloss: the important ideas are here, in terms a young reader will be able to understand and later build upon.

In addition to the fictionalized story, there are notes from the author and now-grown Salva at the end of the book--much appreciated for filling in some of the questions I had while reading.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death?Sometimes, I come to the end of a book and do not want to talk about it. This is not because a book is bad, but because I have come to the end and I am not done reading. Or, to be clearer, I'm done reading in a physical sense, but not in the sense of making sense of what I've read.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (Penguin - DAW), even days after I've finished reading, is one of those books that's difficult to distill, and I have never seen a summary that does justice to how very complex and compelling it is. If you've seen reviews, then you've seen words like genocide, female genital mutilation/circumcision/cutting (worth a websearch to get more information on use of each term, and reasons for and against each), rape, and war. Yet that's simplifying Who Fears Death.

In a futuristic, post-apocalyptic desert, similar to today's southern Sudan, Onyesonwu's Okeke mother is raped by a Nuru man, making her Ewu--visibly, irrevocably different, and outcast from both the Okeke and the Nuru. Onyesonwu, whose name means "who fears death," rebels against the restrictions of her society, and ultimately, decides to rebel against the rules of her world, destroying her father in order to save not just her loved ones, but people who have not loved her. The story, part fantasy, part science fiction, part magical realism, part many other things and Okorafor's original style of storytelling, doesn't shy away from brutal and graphic description, but difficult real-world themes are interwoven with the magical tale seamlessly. Onyesonwu's story is raw, emotional, and nuanced.

It would be easy to highlight a dozen craft elements that I found impressive, such as Okorafor's ability to make me feel like I'm right there, smelling the smells and seeing the sights Onyesonwu does, but I think my favorite is the recurring theme of transformative dying. Several times, a traumatic experience is referred to as a death, while the character lives on, changed, living a new life. I love the idea of the self being reborn throughout life, and death(s) being not endpoints, but waystations, and this theme brings an optimistic, hopeful note to otherwise tragic moments in the characters' lives.

Originally published on the Sirens LiveJournal.

Monday, June 6, 2011

#yasaves--It Scores!

Saturday, I very successfully stayed away from the internet. I had errands to run, a body to rest and mentally refuel, and so on. But right before I went to bed, I checked Twitter, and there it was: a hashtag, #yasaves, all over the place and spreading.

I read the article the tag was in response to, rolled my eyes, and went to bed, but I couldn't get it out of my mind all weekend. You can read the--well, "book review," as it's labeled, and editorial as it is, here:

And, given how connected the kidlit community is, it's no surprise that you can't throw a rock without hitting an excellent rebuttal. Obviously, the piece's comments are favorable, and I've seen a few comments in agreement elsewhere, as well as one defense of the reviewer that didn't give me any concrete reason why all those rebuttals were wrong.

I hate to give more attention to something I think as ill-conceived as what I've linked above, and if it had been published in a venue with less of an audience, I might be tempted to ignore it entirely. That said, I have some thoughts that reflect and expand on the responses I've seen.

First, the title: "Darkness Too Visible." I keep chewing on this one. Too visible? That means it's there and you just don't want to see it, right? Like an ostrich, head in the sand? There's something judgmental here already, something that seems to say that if you can't see it, it doesn't affect you.

How nice to be you.

Then, the blurb sounds like it's going to review a handful of specific books. Instead, we get treated to an anecdote about a mother who had a bad shopping experience. Now, this happens. I'm sure it happens a lot, and I'm sure it happens a lot in Barnes and Noble. First, the store clerk doesn't seem to have had any idea how to help the mother; I've worked in retail, been the person asked the unanswerable question (What size does my kid wear? Is your kid here in the store? No, she's at home--do you think she looks good in red?), been the person covering a department I know nothing about. The appropriate answer is to say hey, I don't know how to help you, but let me see if someone else in the store can. And maybe no one there could--retail survives on strings of part-time people, rarely paid enough to care, but certainly paid enough to agree with a customer that yeah, we don't carry anything you want to buy, whether the clerk really thinks that's true or not. (Heck, I'll even relate that I stood in a B&N recently and heard a bookseller who “specialized” in teen books give some of the worst recommendations ever--a mom looking for adventure was getting TWILIGHT read-alikes--but if you ask for opinions, you get opinions.)

I’d love to hear from the clerk in question: does this piece accurately reflect what you think happened?

Let's now note that there are lots and lots of places to get great book recommendations--often, very specific book recommendations. Librarians and teachers and indie booksellers (and yes, some booksellers at retail chains) really know their stuff, and the American Library Association puts out lists of popular and award-winning books. You can get a pretty good idea about books from their reviews on Goodreads, Librarything, Amazon, and other sites, and book bloggers review picture, middle grade, and YA books all over the place; some of the last even focus on particular types of books, particular themes, and so on.

And let’s note, too, that Barnes and Noble is there to make money. Money to pay its employees and shareholders, money to keep the lights on. To do that, they’re going to focus on what’s popular and selling, and focus less on what is purchased more rarely. I’m not always happy myself in how this plays out. New books that I think are fantastic aren’t picked up for sale at B&N, while books that I think are not so great have huge displays. Some perfectly teen-appropriate books end up in the middle grade (independent readers) section because there's nothing of sufficient explicitness to send it to the teen section. B&N recently separated its young adult section into paranormal romance and everything else, and I think that does a disservice to young adult readers, who’ve benefited from browsing a mixed collection, and based on my own browsing, it’s not even accurately divided! I’m really glad this wasn’t done in the last decade to follow the trends (witches, because those were confused with Harry Potter, then Potter read-alikes, then vampire boyfriends, and so on). I hope B&N drops the idea--in my closest store, you now have to actively seek out “everything else,” because it’s hidden where it’s even harder to find than before. It’s a long way from the middle-grade books, and it’s a long way from the adult books, too.

Really, what I’m saying is this: what you want might not be in your local B&N. That’s not good for you as a shopper, but it’s reality.

Next, I’m a little confused. “Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks...” Where? Really, honestly, where? Most books are spine out--completely uncompelling blocks of today’s popular fonts, identifiable by colophon (if you pay attention to that sort of thing, and I do), mostly with unmemorable titles. Turn the books face out and sure, I can get on board with dramatic, in some cases:

The Replacement Hush, HushHuntress
 Silver PhoenixRot & RuinParanormalcy
City of Bones (Mortal Instruments)The Julian GameZahrah the Windseeker

(Man, I love some of these.)

That's ignoring many book covers with a different approach, like these MG and YA covers:
Life of PiNinth WardAsh
Faerie WinterWildefireWildwing
Swim the FlySleeping Freshmen Never Lie

...but lurid? Do you and I use this word the same way? I’d sure like more books with bright, lurid (!) colors on them, but whatever; I can’t see that any of these covers are shockingly sexually or violently explicit, or especially gruesome. And: so what if they were, or if they think you are? Helps you figure out what’s in the package.

Here, by the way, are the covers for the books referenced in the article:
Rage (Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Book 2)ScarsThe Hunger Games
The OutsidersGo Ask AliceI Am the Cheese (Readers Circle)
The Marbury LensAre You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
Then Again, Maybe I Won'tForever . . .Shine
InexcusableThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

What a range.

I don’t get much further in Gurdon’s piece before objecting to Freeman’s quote that she couldn’t find anything that wasn’t dark, anything without the themes of suicide, vampires, and/or self-mutilation. Giving some leeway for hyperbole, and going ahead with the assumption that mom is looking for something pretty lighthearted and that, perhaps, that’s exactly what her daughter would indeed like to read at this time--both of which are perfectly okay--how about any of these, off the top of my head, some of which I’ve reviewed on this blog, without looking anything up (and without knowing whether the 13-year-old is willing to read something a little bit older or younger than her age might indicate):
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin (but wait: a girl runs away)
THE GALLAGHER GIRLS series by Ally Carter (but wait: girls using weapons and wearing short skirts on the cover)
FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E. L. Konigsburg (but wait: a girl runs away to a museum)
A GIRL NAMED HAMLET by Erin Dionne (but wait: a girl is embarrassed by her parents...actually, maybe this fits better than I thought)
ASH by Malinda Lo (but wait: a girl has a girlfriend)
PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White (but wait: some fantastic creatures die)
DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE by Jordan Sonnenblick (I think)
BRIGHTLY WOVEN by Alexandra Bracken (but wait: a girl might accidentally harm some other people...with magic)
MARE’S WAR by Tanita Davis (but wait: WWII)
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones (but wait: old people)
CLOAKED IN RED or HEIR APPARENT by Vivian Vande Velde (but wait: Red Riding Hood, already a pretty iiiiinteresting story, and multiple video-game deaths in the latter)
WILDWING by Emily Whitman (but wait: there’s time travel!)
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE by Erin McCahan (but wait: a girl struggles with whether or not to get married)
HOW TO DITCH YOUR FAIRY by Justine Larbalestier (but wait: there is a brief kidnapping)
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery (but wait: hair-pulling)
LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott (but wait: war)

And there are loads more I’m not thinking of right now--I’d love to have given a more diverse (in many ways) list here, but I kept having to take things off because, you know, there are Problems That Must Be Overcome, Sometimes Related to Big Ideas along the way (and I like books with peril and danger and violence and swearing and all the rest, so). That’s the thing about good stories: they have conflict before the resolution.

That brings me to my next point. As the piece says, “How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear...” Thanks for dear-ing me, but when I was a child, I was reading V.C. Andrews. I was reading thrillers for grown-ups, with grown-up sex and violence. I was reading books of dirty limericks. I was reading AZTEC and THE COLOR PURPLE and GONE WITH THE WIND and A ROSE IN WINTER and LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER (booo-ring). My seventh-grade teacher was using IT as a read-aloud. Let’s roll things back even further: when I was five, the family Reader’s Digest medical guide told me how to make babies, and even what positions to make them in. I was not a teenage mom, by the way. I was also reading ANASTASIA KRUPNIK and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES...and books about kids who disappeared, or got cancer, or ran away from home, or did drugs (in that inaccurate monstrosity of a book, GO ASK ALICE). Teen lit wasn’t the same then as it is now, and what there was of it I mostly read when I was a “middle-grader”; a lot of it was missing what I now understand as stakes.

The big problems the reviewer sees: pederasty! Kidnapping! Incest! Brutal beatings! You know, in my sarcastic voice, things that people age 12-18 don’t know about and never experience, and that, if they only had heard of them, they’d be doing all the time. I read an awful lot of YA, and I can only think of a handful of books that address these topics--and for most of them, I’d say that the topics are treated with respect and presented to the reader respectfully. Sure, in the 40 years since the reviewer seemingly last had a good idea of what teens know about (and well into the history of young adult literature, for those of us better-informed), and do, and think about, books (and all media) have become more explicit. And again, my question is: So? Is anything accomplished by sweeping tough topics under the rug, by telling people that their experiences don't matter enough to become stories?

Many readers and authors have mentioned their stories of how YA saved them at one point or another, stories better than any I have to share. Maybe they read a story that helped them to feel like they weren’t alone as they came out, or as they struggled with abuse or bullying or violence, or pregnancy, or any of the many other problems kids and their friends face; maybe they just needed to have a variety of things to read to help them escape their real lives for a minute or an hour. The books I read as a child and a teen helped me know more about and be more prepared for the world. They didn’t help me with everything in it, and didn’t particularly help me with the biggest problems I personally faced as a teen, but certainly let me live in other worlds and lives and times--and I do believe that books can save.

I remember listening to some 13-year-olds discussing a book that one had read about a girl having an affair with her teacher and becoming pregnant--the sort of book called out in the WSJ review, I think. They understood that this is not at all what should happen; they were able to articulate their disgust, and in one teen’s expression, an understanding of how the situation might occur, and how complicated it could have been for the girl in the story. I hope this helped them all down the line, as statistics say that at least one of them is likely to have been pressured to be in some sort of relationship they don’t want, whether it was inappropriate adult advances, an abusive relationship, or something else. I wish that the books I had access to as a child had--sometimes--addressed these kinds of topics, because there are times when, armed with more knowledge, I could have been a better friend to people in such extreme situations. If I’d been abused or kidnapped or hurt, maybe I could have drawn on a fictional character’s experiences to plan my own strategy (as, after all, young adult lit rarely can be classified as tragedy, so there are strategies to be had--but someday, we’re going to discuss THE HUNGER GAMES as tragedy 'round these parts).

The review goes on to say that books show us the world, but that young adult literature shows a distorted picture of life. If you’re “careless” or “depraved,” you’ll seek to be surrounded by bad things, and thus become a worse person. Okay, I can get on board with that, modified: books can show us the world. But they can show us dystopia, utopia, distortion, and reality. No book has to, or should, do it all. Art isn’t required to reflect Nice Things alone, and the world would be poorer for it if it did. I’d argue that understanding what is ugly allows us to reflect on and appreciate beauty as well as to understand when Things Are Not Right. It’s perfectly all right with me if you want to read just “happy” books, but I wonder if you’ll be able to make sense of the world if you don’t read a handful that deal with topics like suicide, abuse, and so on.

I won’t say that a reviewer must like every book that’s “dark”; there are a couple mentioned in the review and elsewhere that I’ve written about and never posted my negative reviews of. (I decided that the world wouldn't change much if I kept my thoughts to myself, as these books weren't my cup of tea at all.) I think books that deal with unhappy topics can be crap, and not be great at addressing these unhappy topics, but so can anything. I think it's okay to criticize how authors tackle themes and characterization and topics. I think the assertion that all books in which bad things happen normalize bad things is ludicrous, however, and removes agency from readers who are well able to understand when an action or situation is harmful even if it’s not made explicit in the text. I think wailing that books will teach teens to do bad things is silly; I think there are more complex and nuanced reasons why teens engage in self-destructive behavior than “I read it in a book and I thought it was cool.”

I also think, and not everyone will agree, that removing anything from teens’ lives that might harm them--or remind them that they can harm themselves, in the WSJ’s example--is about the worst way to help them grow up. Teens know the difference between reality and fiction. Life is an endless string of difficult situations, and we need the opportunity to practice dealing with such situations. And in reading, no one need be hurt in real life for lessons to be learned.

That’s why I’m a little horrified about the reasoning for why some of the books called out in the WSJ piece are so bad. In SHINE, a gay teenager is assaulted and left for dead. It’s like we’re supposed to ignore this in fiction, when instead, we need to be dealing with and preventing these situations in real life. Check out CNN. You won’t have to look back very far or wait very long for a report to come in. This is reality, and we must live in it. If we're lucky and willful, we can change it.

Next, the WSJ piece starts to talk about whether or not parents want their children reading “bad language.” Trust me, trust me, your child has heard it all before. If it’s a concern for you, talk about it with your child, and let your child take the next step. There are perfectly reasonable discussions to have without pretending bad language doesn’t exist. There are perfectly reasonable discussions to have regarding whether swearing is appropriate in particular situations (or not), and discussions to have regarding why an author may have chosen to use that particular word in lieu of another.

Just remember this: being a parent does not automatically qualify you to parent every child, nor does it give you the right to parent every child.

The author of the WSJ piece writes, “Alas, literary culture is not sympathetic to adults who object either to the words or storylines in young-adult books.” Besides my objection to that hyphen, I’ll tell you exactly why I’m not sympathetic. I’ve told you part of it: You’re policing me, my students, other people’s kids, teachers, librarians, and so on. Another part of it: There’s a big, wide world of literature out there, and the books you’re referring to are only a small slice of the whole, meaning that you can indeed find something else to read. The biggest part of it: The article goes on to advocate, in only slightly veiled terms, book banning. Calling it “judgment” or “taste,” as the author does, is not getting to the heart of the matter; “judgment” and “taste” are about what you choose to read, not what everyone else does.

Those people who make selections for teen readers generally genuinely care about teens, want to help them find books that match their interests, and want them to find books they will love. They will, sometimes, get it wrong. But it’s sickening when a so-called professional book reviewer says that the American Library Association “delights” in informing people about frequently challenged books.


Since when is anyone happy to have to defend a book--maybe even a book they don’t like--but that has no reason to be removed from a library’s shelves? You know, that thing where a defender probably has to put her career on the line, be ripped apart in the media, explain every possible justification, and still not have it be taken as the bigger picture, the greater good?

And for the record, Sherman Alexie’s oft-challenged DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN is one of the best books I’ve ever read. There is masturbation in it. Teenagers do that, sometimes.

The article, review, whatever it is only goes downhill from there, telling parents that they don’t have to take it anymore! As if they didn’t have the opportunity to shape what their (own) kids were reading in the first place. Thank you mom, and dad, and Great-Aunt Barbara, and grandma, and grandpa, and everyone else in my family for reading a little bit of everything. I learned that there were many things to read, and that people might not agree on the content of these many things to read.

I know or know of some parents who screen everything their child reads (or everything they think their child is reading), and who read along; I know some parents who have a read-what-you-want policy. The important thing is that people are reading. Talk to a literacy expert, who’ll tell you how this benefits your teen’s facility with mechanics of grammar and spelling. Talk to a college composition teacher, who’ll appreciate how your teen has had extra opportunities to read and think about books without the explicit guidance of an English teacher. Talk to your child, or your child’s friends, who have a shared experience, a bridge between each other, a bridge for talking about weighty topics. Talk to your child about what’s important to you. And then trust.

And before I wrap up, note that the sidebar of the WSJ piece (visible to you if you’re on a computer, but not to me, reading on a mobile phone) that some of the recommended books are not free from the scary, violent, or explicit, and that they’ve been split out into books for boys and books for girls, rather than books for teens, or by theme, or genre. What I’m supposed to think of this, I don’t know, but it reinforces the WSJ piece as something not fully thought through.

Let me just end with a rebellion I always hoped would go away when I grew up:

Don’t tell me what to read.
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