Just what is YA?

Children’s Book Week – June 12-16

When books were just books

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as “young adult” as a marketing niche.

In my house, there were just books. Never was I told that any of those books were not for me. I was reading fully “grown-up” literature when I was 7. I read my mother’s Pearl Buck collection before I was 10 and I didn’t have any difficulty with any of it.

Children who are encouraged to read and permitted to read will find their own level. They might well enjoy today’s “age-appropriate” middle grade or YA offerings, But then, if the books are good enough, so will many people who have long since left their teens behind. A good story can be read by anybody who loves to read, from age 12 to 92, without any artificial age boundaries in there.

And I’m using 12 as a beginning with a distinct sense that it is fungible. There are precocious readers who can read this stuff much younger, as I did, The relationship between a book and its reader is always very individual and specific and quite often unpredictable.

Age distinctions are a recent development, and since their arrival we have had kidlit fragment into picture books for VERY young readers, chapter books, middle grade, YA, New Adult.

People are constantly asking where are the lines? And that is a good question because it simply isn’t true that a young protagonist is all that it takes for a book to be YA. You could look at “Lolita” through that lens and because it has a young girl center stage – she’s even the title – you might throw a wholly undeserved YA label on it.

For a long time Harry Potter was pretty much THE YA genre. Everyone knew about Harry. And a generation grew up having picked up the first book when they were Harry’s age and then aged concurrently with it, adding their years just as Harry did his.

But the Harry Potter books and movies are very much a ladder and the first one feels almost simplistic. The subsequent books are much darker, much more complicated while still rated YA. Young readers are expected to cope with a very broad range of material, and this is often underestimated when it comes to “children’s literature”. Children can understand so very much – especially if you root it in familiar tropes.

My first YA series

Worldweavers coversThe first series I wrote for a YA audience was Worldweavers (“Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage”, “Dawn of Magic”) It was born out of a YA panel at the 2002 Fantasy Worldcon, where Jane Yolen, the grande dame of children’s lit, said at one point that she didn’t like the way the Potter books treated their girls. I lost the rest of the panel completely because that was all it took for Thea Winthrop to step out of the shadows and introduce herself to me.

Her story had all the tropes. Thea went to a school known as the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a place for the weird and geekish in her magical world. Thea was a Double Seventh, the seventh child of two seventh children, and her magical gifts were expected to be profound. Instead, she grew up as the Girl Who Couldn’t Do Magic.

It wasn’t that she was bad at magic in her magical world – she could not do it at all. To her, it was like she was standing behind a glass wall, unable to reach or touch or practice it. The reason behind that initial paralysis drove the whole series.

I peopled my book with three different kinds of creatures.

There are humans, much like us who can’t do magic. And there are those who can. And some of the magic users were rather famous in our own world, like Nikola Tesla, known widely as the Wizard of the West during his life and, when he appears in my books, the only quad-Elemental mage in human history.

The second group group of creatures are those I wholly invented, like my Alphiri. They look like Tolkien’s elves but have the grasping souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi and a built-in conviction that everything is for sale.

The third group of creatures are drawn from the American mythos – creatures like Grandmother Spider, and Tawaha the Sun God, and Coyote the Trickster.

I wove a story around them all – a story which revolved around one thing: about Thea’s coming of age, and into her own.

In fact, she becomes powerful indeed – becomes something quite unique (no spoilers; you’ll have to read the books to find out what.) But this doesn’t happen overnight, or easily. There are things she has to be willing to sacrifice on her road to the apex of her existence. She has to be willing to offer things she cherishes deeply, in order to save a friend. And then in order to save her world, she has to make tough choices that will haunt her for the rest of her life. By the end of these books, my little girl is a little girl no longer. She is a grown, fully developed human being.

That is not to say she has become perfect – but that is not the point of a YA book. It is not to tell a young reader that one has to be flawless in order to survive. It is to assure them that flaws are inevitable, even necessary, but that it is possible to transcend them, or incorporate them into one’s being, and grow through that process.

Thea Winthrop is an amazing character who was a gift to work with. She is fourteen when we first meet her, and she is the perfect insecure teenager, one who disappoints her parents and knows it and is made miserable by it. She doesn’t quite know how to make it right. This is familiar territory to many young readers, who don’t live in a world of magic but who have, in their time, known that look of disappointment on their elders’ faces and have quailed at it. They will be standing right there next to Thea when she has her experiences. They understand – and they will be waiting for her to deal with that burden, to see how she does it, to see if they can learn something about how to deal with their own.

I wrote a book and series about choices and about growing up DIFFERENT and how to handle it all, even when you have to do it with fear, or with reluctance, or with only just enough grace to scrape by. And also with joy – the joy of discovery of one’s real identity, one’s real potential. The joy of friendship. The joy of learning, and of growing wise. And also the bitterness of betrayal, and the agony of failure, and what sometimes feels the almost unbearable burden of survival against the odds. It’s about proving something, both to oneself and to others.

In some ways, that journey is the best of “children’s literature” – the coming of age stories – and there are many out there, from Susan Cooper, to Madeleine L’Engle, to C S Lewis, to J K Rowling and the Potterverse. And I’m not talking about just fantasy. There are plenty of authors over there in the REAL “real” world who tell stories that could well have happened in our own real lives. But is something like “Stand by Me” or “The Outsiders” truly limited to a YA audience? Can the people who might already have passed the finish line of the “coming of age” race and are acknowledged as fully adult not be allowed to look back and remember the road they travelled to get there, in the worlds of “children’s literature”?

It’s all about the story

The best of children’s literature is basically a good story which can be enjoyed by a reader of any age. In the end, what it boils down to is whether your young reader can stand beside a character in a story, stand beside them and support them, at the same time stand beside them and learn from them what is possible, what is permitted and what is unthinkable – and why.

“Children’s literature” is formative, introducing the young to the realms of Story where they will either flourish and thrive or where they will founder – and foundering is easy enough, if the readers in question are bullied or forced into books. A fostered love of reading is essential when it comes to staying in love with the written word.

In my books, that translates into a certain complexity of story. Thea’s tale is layered and complicated, just like any “real” growing up would have been. I paint relationships there – very different ones – relationships where she is very much the acolyte, relationships where she is the adversary, and relationships where she is loved and cherished.

They are all necessary for the story to get woven together. They form as complex a backdrop as any “real” life might, and the reason they are necessary and the reason they work are the same – they sparkle with recognition, with tiny glittering pieces which a reader might pause and take a closer look at and find something very familiar in them, perhaps a reflection of themselves.

When we are adults, we assume that we understand the world we live in and are able to deal with what it throws at us because we are familiar with the context of it all. In “Children’s literature” the protagonist is just starting to come to terms with a world – that is often baffling and sometimes frightening.

That is what makes the Worldweavers books the “youngest” books I have ever written, not because of a simplistic measure like the age of their protagonist but because this isn’t about a journey finished and now remembered, being, instead, about the journey AS IT HAPPENS, counting the steps it takes to cross a room, a river, or a world. The young readers of such books are sharing that journey themselves, in real time, and that is why a good “kid” book is going to appeal to them – they will recognize themselves in the protagonist and that protagonist’s position in the story they’re reading.

In the space of a few short days devoted to a Children’s Literature Week, it is impossible to cover all the books that matter in this context – but what is important is simply this: that there are certain books which are The Beginning, the origin station for a lifelong journey into the world of the word. And that is to be celebrated.

My second YA series is The Were Chronicles – but that’s for another time.

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Quote of the Day

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you have been.” ~ Novelist Madeleine L’Engle

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Unputable downable

Buzzfeed Books asked subscribers of their newsletter to tell them about a book that they couldn’t put down. One reader talked about taking her choice to work and pretending to search her purse for something just so she could read another page. That’s unputable downable!

Their list of 53 books is heavily weighted toward the best sellers list, but there are some surprises and reasons given for each are fascinating.

The choices range from Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, to Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan, and Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin.

One selection:

The New York Trilogy

 

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

“I have never been so adamant about finding out what’s going to happen in a book, whilst at the same time feeling so baffled by the path taken to get there. Auster’s interlocking, genre-bending detective stories are something you really just have to dig into to understand. And, as amazing as this book is, it should really come with a warning: “Will ruin all other books for you by making them seem highly ordinary.” ~ Holly

 

 

See the other 52 selections HERE

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Dorothy Woodend asks rather plaintively at Alternet

Um, Now Can We Have a Girl’s Coming of Age Film?

and points out in these reawakening movies, it’s always about the boy. (article link below)

So, I read the article and all about the movies it describes. Neither would have induced me to part with money for a ticket, to be honest – it all sounds like SO much “more of the same” – I’ve seen these movies before,

it seems that only in fantasyland (the iconic “Hunger Games”, or my own Worldweavers series..) is the girl allowed the space and the privilege of doing her own growing up.

Contemporary lit of the YA ilk is often focused on the MALE half of the equation, with the girls’ own adventure presented as either as a side plot and an also-ran or simply glossed over altogether in her supporting role for the male metamorphosis.

And they say that boys won’t read NOW? Even though it’s all about them? Well, then, why don’t we simply go ahead and write the girl stories anyway? What is there left to lose? And I’d love to see a proper movie with a young female central character (who is not Katniss Everdeen) coming into her own…Me and Earl
In Dorothy Woodend’s piece, she discusses two of the most recent examples of men-in-crisis film are Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Ben’s At Home.

“One is a Sundance darling…and the other is a low-budget Canadian indie. Superficially, they don’t look the same. One has stars, a showy cinematographer, and a big old budget, while the other was shot in Toronto for apparently five dollars…What they do have in common is the license given to the male lead to suck up all the attention, no matter what is happening around him.”

Read the whole story HERE

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And they tell ME I write books that put my characters through hell..

10 Dark Books for the Literarily Disturbed

If you’re seduced by the deeper, grittier side of literature, check out a list of the most subversive novels in literary fiction, chosen by Feed Your Need to Read. They add, “don’t say we didn’t warn you about these dark books.”

Tropic of Cancer

 

Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

Henry Miller’s semi-autobiographical tale of a homeless writer’s bawdy adventures in Paris never shrinks from explicit detail. The mix of offensive language, vignettes, and aggressive social commentary led to the book’s immediate ban. As a judge at Miller’s obscenity trial raved, “It is a cesspool, an open sewer, a pit of putrefaction, a slimy gathering of all that is rotten in the debris of human depravity.”

 

 

9 other dark books HERE

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How the Modern Detective Novel Was Born

Golden Age of Murder

 

In a new book, Martin Edwards traces the detective novel through the decades, and the many forms its taken on the way to its current form.

The roots of the modern detective novel can be traced back to Trent’s Last Case, written by E.C. Bentley, and published in 1913. Bentley intended to write an ironic exposure of detective fiction, but the book’s cleverness and lightness of touch meant that readers took it seriously, and it became a wildly successful best-seller. Above all, it influenced a new generation of writers after the First World War.

 

Read the whole story HERE

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Blank pagesBlank pages … teenagers reading. Photograph: Cultura Creative (RF)/Alamy

Which books didn’t change your life?

Whether she’s weighing into Amazon or defending fantasy against the slights of literary novelists, Claire Armitstead writes at The Guardian, “Ursula Le Guin is always good value.”

This month on her blog, a request for a list of her top 50 books led to a meditation on the books that had failed to change her.

“What books didn’t influence me?” she writes. “If only someone would ask that! I’ve been waiting for years to answer it. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, I will say, had absolutely no influence on me except to cause hours of incredulous boredom. I thought in all fairness I ought to try The Fountainhead. I gave up on page 10.”

Read the whole article HERE

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THIS n THATlocker booksTeachers Transform Lockers into Book Spines

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Font with agendaProject Seen: A font with an agenda

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Missing comma gets grammar nerd out of parking ticket

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Quote of the DayQUOTE kids only~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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The novel is dead – again

On Vox, Kelsey McKinney remembers the 30 times the novel has been declared dead since 1902

Read the whole story HERE

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Since I have written many coming-of-age stories –from the Worldweavers and The Were Chronicles books to the Syai Empire Tales and The Hidden Queen — I was recently asked in an interview what the lure was for me.

Life is change,” I answered, and …”There is a particular age when change can be monumental, can place you between heartbreaking choices, can alter you or your circumstances in a fundamental way, so as to leave you in an entirely different space, both inside your own head and in the world around you. The story then becomes how you have evolved to fit those changes.

“That is the crux of the coming-of-age story, this evolution, and watching human beings change fascinates me. There are just so many possible individual responses to any given stimulus, so many alternate futures waiting, that it’s a breathless thing to wait and see which road a particular character will choose to take and how that choice will affect everyone else around them.”  (Read my interview HERE)

Camille DeAngelis, the author of Bones & All, a coming-of-age novel about a girl who’s also a cannibal, picked for Publishers Weekly:

The 10 Best Coming-of-Age Books You’ve Never Read

Her remarks are similar to mine. “…when we see fictional people growing into themselves to meet the seemingly-impossible challenges thrust upon them, , we feel better prepared to handle our own. This process is particularly critical during adolescence…”

Her choices include:
Prim ImproperPrim Improper by Deirdre SullivanThis Irish coming-of-age trilogy is alternately hilarious and poignant. When Primrose O’Leary’s mother dies in a bike accident involving a drunk driver, she has to move in with her dad Fintan—the quintessential Celtic fat cat—who’s been pretty much an absentee father up to this point. Written in diary format, the Prim Improper books are witty and tender without ever straying into sentimentality, emphasizing the value of compromise and of looking for the good in people who aren’t remotely like you—especially when you’re stuck with them because they’re family.

 

 

Read the whole article HERE

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EpicReads has selected:

The 18 Most Beautiful YA Endpapers in the World

Cracking the spine of a hardcover book and discovering beautiful endpapers is a lot like opening the door to a literary surprise party. At first, you’re taken aback. A stunning cover immediately followed by equally stunning endpapers? Yes, let it sink in, because book designers know, sometimes you deserve to be spoiled.Angel endpaperThe Shadowhunter’s Codex by Cassandra Clare – photo posted by Brenda Franklin (@beefranklin613)

See other breathtaking YA endpapers HERE

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Listen to what the English of Shakespeare, Beowulf, and King Arthur actually sounded like in these videosbeowulfThe English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible may seem flowery, but it’s basically just an older version of what we speak now, James Harbeck explains in The Week. In fact, it’s what linguists call Early Modern English. But it’s not what you hear in the movies, more like a mix of Irish and pirate. Watch the video and hear Ben Crystal perform a sonnet in the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time.

Old English is not understandable at all to modern English speakers; you’d have an easier time learning Dutch or Danish. The most famous bit of literature from the Old English period is Beowulf. Listen to Benjamin Bagby, who sounds like he grew up then, read from it.

Read the whole story HERE

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I don’t know who this woman is but I want to be her… these are my totem beasts, and my whole spirit just cried out watching that video. They are BEAUTIFUL.White Wolf PactThe Mysterious Connection Between Wolves and Women (Video)

All strong women who believe the Spirit heals.. who believe in spirituality, myth and medicine of the soul, should read this amazing work. It is a truly profound spiritual testimony to the Wild Wolf Woman within! ~ Selkywolf…

White Wolf Pact instructs us that healthy woman is much like a wolf – strong life force, life-giving, territorily aware, intuitive and loyal. Yet separation from her wildish nature causes a woman to become meager, anxious, and fearful….Without us, Wild Woman dies. Without Wild Woman, we die. Para Vida, for true life, both must live. © Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Buzzfeed offers 33 tongue-in-cheeks reasons You Should Never Read A BookLost vistasAll those magnificent vistas lost forever while you are home reading

See all the “reasons” HERE

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Quote of the Day

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”  ~ James Baldwin

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Alma Alexander     My books      Email me

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Tomato eyes?


At the Ted talk blog, Helene Batt and Kate Torgovnick May examine 40 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally

As our Open Translation Project volunteers translate TED Talks into 105 languages, they’re often challenged to translate English idioms into their language. Which made us wonder: what are their favorite idioms in their own tongue?

For example:
The idiom: ชาติหน้าตอนบ่าย ๆ
Literal translation: “One afternoon in your next reincarnation.”
What it means: “It’s never gonna happen.”
Thai translator Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut

Other languages this idiom exists in: A phrase that means a similar thing in English: “When pigs fly.” In French, the same idea is conveyed by the phrase, “when hens have teeth (quand les poules auront des dents).” In Russian, it’s the intriguing phrase, “When a lobster whistles on top of a mountain (Когда рак на горе свистнет).” And in Dutch, it’s “When the cows are dancing on the ice (Als de koeien op het ijs dansen).”

About those tomatoes
tomato_eyesThe idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal translation: “You have tomatoes on your eyes.”
What it means: “You are not seeing what everyone else can see. It refers to real objects, though — not abstract meanings.
German translator Johanna Pichler

See all the idioms HERE

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8 Hot Book-Based Movies
dakota-johnson-fifty-shades-of-greyDakota Johnson in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’/Image © Focus Features

If it is hot you want, Jay A. Fernandez and Word & Film has eight movies beyond “50 Shades of Gray” for you to look at, from “Dangerous Liaisons” to “Nine 1/2 Weeks”  — and some honorable mentions.

You know about that movie, of course. “The film adaptation of E.L. James’s mega-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey is out and hearts and other delicate organs are all aflutter at the prospect of Jamie Dornan’s billionaire control-freak Mr. Grey finally introducing Dakota Johnson’s naïve college grad Anastasia Steele to the exquisite joys (and pains) of BDSM on the big screen…if you find yourself hungry for more book-based, big-screen eroticism, here’s our ranking of some of the steamier options on offer (on a scale of one to five shades). Curious?”

Hot enough for you? HERE

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Girl Canon

Girls read more than boys, a Flavorwire article notes, but the classic, canonical growing-up books tend to represent the male experience. Emily Temple asks, where are the books for girls to grow up on?

I wondered the same thing myself at the start of the Harry Potter tidal wave and set out to something about that with my Worldweavers YA series. Its central figure, Thea Winthrup, was The Girl Who Couldn’t who became over the four books, The Woman Who Saved The World. Quite a role model.

Temple offers 50 other “Essential Books about the female experience.

Check out her list HERE

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Dawn of Magic

 

Speaking of Worldweavers, the fourth and  final book in the series, Dawn of Magic, is now out and I am sponsoring a giveaway at Goodreads.

Go to the site and enter your name for a chance to win a copy of the book in which Thea, Nikola Tesla and Corey the Trickster rescue mankind’s stolen Core of Magic..

 

Enter Contest HERE

 

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50 Books Guaranteed to Make You More Interesting

At Flavorwire, Emily Temple offers a list of books that will make you smarter, funnier, deeper, and yes, more interesting — at least to some people.

Take, for example:
The Gilda Stories,The Gilda Stories, Jewelle Gomez: OK: this is a feminist lesbian vampire novel, a coming-of-age story starring an undead escaped slave that spans some 200 years as the title character works her way from Louisiana in 1850 to New Hampshire in 2020. It’s bound to teach anybody something new.

And one more:
Lone Ranger and TontoThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie:  Not only one of the best, funniest, and smartest books about the Native American experience in America, but also one of the best, funniest, and smartest books. Alexie’s interwoven shorts will improve you in almost every way.

See the other 48 HERE

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Sounds of Silence

Silence has become an endangered species. Gordon Hempton writes at Daily Good, and that is bad for us and the planet.

“Our cities, our suburbs, our farm communities, even our most expansive and remote national parks are not free from human noise intrusions. Nor is there relief even at the North Pole; continent-hopping jets see to that.”  
Silent Forest“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It lives here, profoundly, at One Square Inch in the Hoh Rain Forest, part of Olympic National Park — arguably the quietest place in the United States. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest. Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are…To experience the soul-swelling wonder of silence, you must hear it.”

Read the profound lyrical essay HERE

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Quote of the Day
QUOTE Great book~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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