Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Young adult literature

I finished my first of the two graduate classes I'm taking this summer.  The class was about young adult literature and I wasn't sure how much it would apply to me since I've never really been one to read or teach much young adult literature.  But I was pleasantly surprised!  Not only did I meet some really awesome people in my class, I got to meet some really great books.  I will definitely be recommending some of the books that I read to my students, if not teaching a few of them in my classes.

We did A TON of reading in this class.  Here's a quick list of the books I read  and what I thought about them.

Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge Of all the books on the syllabus, this is the one I thought I would enjoy the least mostly because it was about a boy who's obsessed with baseball.  But I have to admit that I LOVED this book.  It's so cleverly written.  Ron Koertge does an amazing job of working different forms of poetry into this book, everything from sonnets to sestinas, while making it fun to read.  We Skped with with the author and he was just as clever and creative to talk to as you would expect from reading the book.  I will definitely be using parts of this book with my creative writing class.  I plan on reading Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, which is the book that came before this one.

Split by Swati Avasthi This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing but because of the subject it deals with.  Split is the story of a boy who grew up with an abusive father.  He leaves the house to go live with his older brother who left several years before, but is still tied to his old life because of his ex-girlfriend and his mother who is still living with the abusive father.  The characters are extremely well-written and stick with you.  This book kept me wanting to read more to find out what would happen.  We Skyped with the author and she was really interesting.  She told us that she was surprised by what her characters ended up doing when she was writing it, which was a strange thing for me to try to understand as someone who doesn't write.  I plan on using this book in my class that deals with monsters next year because it's a great example of how people deal with "monsters" they encounter in real life.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler  I liked the concept of this book more than I liked the actual book.  It is basically a letter written by a girl to the guy she's breaking up with, but she tells the story through the box of stuff that she drops off on his doorstep.  There are pictures of each of the things in the box throughout the book and she explains what each thing had to do with their relationship.  I wanted to like it, but would have liked it better if it had been half as long as it was because it got old towards the end.

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell I thought this book was really easy to get into and to keep reading.  It is considered a paranormal book, but the paranormal part was so naturally woven into the book that I would not limit it by describing it that way.  It involves a girl who grew up in Maine, but was sent to Baltimore by her brother so that she could make a good match and get married.  In my head, I kept comparing it to a Jane Austen novel, but when our class talked to the author, she said she was aiming more for it to be closer to a Bronte novel.  The characters were interesting and the plot had several twists that surprised me.  I have the second book of the series The Springsweet and I will definitely be reading it soon.

Nothing by Janne Teller I had a really hard time with this book.  I thought the concept was really interesting, trying to deal with the meaning of life by making a pile of the things that were important to them, but as I kept reading I got more and more horrified.  The book is gruesome and didn't seem to have much of a point to me.  It was compared to Lord of the Flies in most of the reviews I read, but I don't think it was a good comparison because this book seemed much more forced.  Of all the books Ir read for class, this one really bothered and disturbed me and I would not recommend it to anyone.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys  This book tells the story of a Lithuanian girl and her family starting in 1941.  They are taken from their home and made to go to a work camp, eventually ending up in Siberia.  It is a completely different holocaust story than the ones that are typically told and I learned so much by reading this book.  In the beginning of the book, the author states that the countries of Lithuania and a few others disappeared from maps for a while and the people who lived there had nowhere to go.  This book was difficult to read because of the subject, but I would definitely recommend it.   I am thinking of using it in my genocide/holocaust class if I can manage to work another book into it.

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak I had listened to this book on cd a few years ago and I was excited to get to actually sit down and read it.  This was the longest of the books I read, but one of the most interesting.  The book is narrated by death and tells the story of a girl living in Nazi Germany.  It is not at all what you would expect.  Death is compassionate and the characters are extremely interesting and all seem to have great senses of humor, which is hard to make work in that setting, but somehow the author manages to make it work.  This is one of those books where the characters really stick with you after you are done reading it.  I have been wanting to teach it for a few years, but I might have to have one of my students read it and give me their opinion before I totally commit.

Ungifted by Gordan Korman We read this aloud during our class and I loved it.  It was so funny.  The characters are great and I loved how the author switched narrators every chapter.  It is so different from what I usually read because this one is a definite young adult book, but I loved it.  The basic plot is that a boy who is kind of a class clown smacks a statue of atlas holding the world on the butt and the world comes loose and rolls into the middle school gym during a really important basketball game.  The superintendent catches him and writes down his name, but it accidentally gets mixed in with the students that are being transferred to the school for gifted students.  What happens from there is so funny and cleverly written.  I will definitely be checking out some of the author's other books.

So that's a run down of what we read in the class.  I have a lot more reading ahead of me because the professor gave us a bunch of galley copies of young adult books that she had so I have a stack of about fifteen new books to read!

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