Who is the monster in Rick Yancey's ? At first, we are led to believe that the monster is the Doctor, Will Henry's primary caretaker and "mad scientis...moreWho is the monster in Rick Yancey's ? At first, we are led to believe that the monster is the Doctor, Will Henry's primary caretaker and "mad scientist", who neglects Will Henry due to his own scientific obsessions. Then we are lead to believe that the true monster is John Kearns, the "monster hunter" who turns out to be Jack the Ripper. And, of course, the Anthropophagus , whose flesh eating cannibalism ravages the families of New Jerusalem. Which is the worst "monster"? Yancey answer is deeply rooted in human morality. For example, the Doctor's morality is based on science and a life without hope. Kearns operates from a different moral philosophy: the morality of the moment. And the Anthropophagus are survival based; the size of their brains limit any capacity of human morality. These differences and fluctuations in morality lend to classroom discussion about morality -- human or otherwise. I think this is where we find God in Yancey's novel; which of these characters demonstrates Christ? What are some implications of a character's morality? What does justice look like? Yancey's integration of scientific theories of Darwin, Freud, and the like also add to this conversation of morality.
On another note, Yancey does an excellent job developing his characters. I started out with a strong dislike toward Doctor, but ended up admiring his compassion and dignity. The Doctor's duality is also reflected into Will Henry, whose naivety turns to heroism despite his being only 12. Yet, despite his acts of heroism, the reader wonders whether or not Will Henry will grow into the Doctor -- an aloof and confessedly loveless man. Perhaps the most controversial element to Yancey's writing is his element of violence. There were some moments where I was nauseated from Yancey's writing -- particularly the section about the worms spilling out of Will Henry's father's boils. Yet, this element is essential for Yancey's development. Without violence or the grotesque, Yancey's novel would be lackluster. All the subsequent literary elements would hold little impact. Not only violence an element of the genre, it also enhances Yancey's theme of morality.
One cannot ignore Yancey's expert style and diction. Yancey is writing out of three genres: mystery, horror, and historical. He fuses these three styles in his novel, the result being vivid imagery and commentary. Yancey's writing parallels several of the classics, most notably Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, and the like. There is a circulating belief that the classics are of little use in educating adolescent readers. Clearly not in this circumstance! I would not call Yancey's style contemporary, which is what I am used to reading, yet I still was entertained from start to finish. Yancey is reintroducing the classics back into contemporary literature -- an effort that should be applauded.
Overall, I found this novel to be quite innovative. I will definitely use this novel in the future. (less)
Even though it was a quick read, I enjoyed April Halprin Wayland's Girl Coming in for a Landing . This was my first experience reading a novel in ver...moreEven though it was a quick read, I enjoyed April Halprin Wayland's Girl Coming in for a Landing . This was my first experience reading a novel in verse and I found its content consistent with the life of an adolescent (crushes, sibling relationships, break-ups, sexuality). What I enjoyed most about the novel was that it reminded me of my own struggles and victories of adolescence; I was also around 14 when I published my first poem. Authenticity, then, is the novel's strongest feature. Girls can relate to the narrator's interactions with characters Carlos, Yen-Mei, and Great Aunt Ida, and they can relate to the narrator's (whose name, I just realized, is omitted) reflections on menstruation, teachers, and kissing (!). The novel's structure -- entirely in verse -- also provides a higher appeal to readers, and may subsequently inspire their own writing. However, I do think the novel is a little one-sided, as there isn't a lot of material an adolescent boy can draw from. Nonetheless, there are many benefits to reading a "verse" novel. Poetry has a unique appeal due to its reflective nature. Where else can a writer be as raw and as profound as when writing a poem? Differing perspectives also provide the reader a lot of room for discussion and opinion -- a great trait for a classroom!! Poetry also utilizes a multitude of literary elements, such as metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, more so than prose. Wayland is great because she uses several different forms of poetry, such as a sonnet, word poems, free verse, limerick, etc to appeal to the reader. She's also very witty and creates some powerful imagery: "and I can only tell what I am feeling/by reading/those long lines of letters/still damp/as they emerge." Without this, I believe her "novel" would have suffered and, again, would have been a bit one-sided. The only complaint I have with this novel is the fact that Wayland calls it a "novel." To me, a novel has an exposition, rising conflict, and resolution --the basic Freytag structure. But Wayland only loosely connects these events, and some of her characters are not completely resolved by the end of her book (whatever happened to Leslie?). However, one can argue that Wayland seamlessly develops her narrator and does provide an intriguing plot for her characters to follow. As a whole, I don't think it is fair to compare her verse novel to a prose novel. There are many differences between the genre to begin with, and I think that the reader does walk away from the novel feeling a bit enlightened and encouraged by this girl who loves to write. Is there anything better to transmit to students?(less)
Speak was my favorite novel my freshman year in high school. I must have read it a half dozen times. Its appeal is in its honest, brutal, and raw po...more Speak was my favorite novel my freshman year in high school. I must have read it a half dozen times. Its appeal is in its honest, brutal, and raw portrayal of the high school outcast. The novel deals with heavy topics: rape, sex, depression, mutism, alienation -- even suicide. But I think the most catching part is its familiarity, for how many of us -- especially adolescents -- have experienced some form of alienation? There are two things the author, Laurie Halse Anderson, does exceptionally well. First, is the portrayal of her protagonist, Melinda Sordino. Melinda's inner dialogue is perfect. She's selectively mute, but she has a lot to say -- most notably her rape and consequent abandonment by family, friends, and even her school. But Melinda doesn't whine about the injustices she faces; she testifies honestly, but painfully. In fact, readers are probably most affected by Melinda's normality --she's the kind of girl you could instantly befriend. Anderson's prose also provides justice for Melinda's voice. She separates Melinda from the outside world through her dialogue, simply written as "Me:_____" But Anderson softens Melinda through the use of her almost poetical prose; most of these moments occur when Melinda is revisiting her rape, an aspect that takes away from the overall graphic nature of the scene. Anderson also implements symbolism throughout her novel. Symbols such as the tree -- a continual symbol of growth and decay throughout the novel -- and Melinda's chapped (almost sewn) lips indicate her deadened spirit. Her lips represent her sentiments toward silence -- that, like rape, it's not necessarily a choice. These symbols are subtly approached and woven into the novel, an example being how the tree is literally regrowing itself in the art room. Speak is considered a breakthrough novel. Due to its controversial elements and topics, there have been numerous censorship debates regarding this novel. However, this novel is essential to any adolescent reader because it provides a glimpse into the fragile life of an outsider. Perhaps this book is the motivation for a reader to get professional help, to speak up, or perhaps its testimony is the conviction of another. Regardless, this novel should be spread throughout the classroom and treated as it is -- great literature. (less)
It's not often that we read from the perspective of both the antagonist and protagonist. Keir Sarafian believes himself to be the protagonist: a good...moreIt's not often that we read from the perspective of both the antagonist and protagonist. Keir Sarafian believes himself to be the protagonist: a good guy, loyal friend, great son, brother and friend. But he proves to be the antagonist to Gigi Boudakian; he proves to be her rapist. This is an intriguing perspective to take, especially when writing for adolescents. At the same time, however, this novel is essential in expanding and exploring the gray areas of morality. The book is centered around the question: is it inexcusable what Keir did? There are many factors involved in the crime; in the few hours leading up to the crime, Keir experiences rejection, heavy drug use, and alcohol. It can be argued that he was not in his right mind. However, Keir's narcissistic and increasingly erratic behavior complicates things. He almost seems to black out when involved with illegal activities such as breaking the statue, hazing the soccer students, etc. Not to mention his "perfect" hit on his opponent that left him crippled. Through all of this, however, Keir seems unaffected. It seems that Keir has trouble recognizing his own morality, and what is right and wrong. He waits around and lets the circumstances -- or consequences -- direct his decision making. There are no clear lines drawn in this novel. Lynch does an excellent job at stirring up conflict, then letting it settle. This forces the reader to be involved in the novel's inconclusive ending. The novel also seems wholly realistic due to Lynch's portrayal of Keir. Keir's first person point of view is essential in building the theme of morality because it indicates that Keir is an unreliable narrator. As readers, we cannot trust his perspective, so we must form our own. Although Keir is at first ashamed at being called a "Killer," as the novel progress, it becomes clear that the title is fitting -- he lets this identity control his actions. This raises so many questions about right and wrong, morality, and justice. It would serve as a great discussion tool/prompt for any reader or classroom. (less)
I'll admit, I was a little skeptical of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games . I tend to move away from "phenomena" books, mainly because they tend to b...moreI'll admit, I was a little skeptical of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games . I tend to move away from "phenomena" books, mainly because they tend to be more hype than literary. But the genius behind The Hunger Games is in its simplicity: it's actually a very traditional tale of good vs. evil and boy meets girl – with a twist. The success of Collins' novel lies with several controlling elements, the first being narration. The novel benefits from Katniss' first-person narration and concise, yet emotive, prose. Even in the action scenes, where most novels typically go awry, Collins maintains a very personal and “human” narrator. Without Katniss' sensitivity, the novel would lack in its pathos appeal. The emerging love triangle between Gale, Katniss, and Peeta also lends to the novel's success (how appealing for adolescents!), and balances out the violent murders of each tribute. The setting and plot also factor into the novel's success. Without the dystopia, the corruption of Capitol, or the severe divide between all 12 districts, the plot would not be nearly as intense, despite its fast-paced sequencing. Collins is a good writer; she knows how to capture her audience's attention and build suspense while developing her characters. The character development of Peeta and (especially) Katniss add another layer to Collins' genius. Ironically, although both characters begin strong and independent, they end up vulnerable -- a smart ending for the first novel in a trilogy. Beyond the laters of romance and violence, however, lies a deeper morality and political intention. Throughout Collins' dystopia are several allusions to the crippling after effects of The Hunger Games. Haymitch is an obvious sign of the degenerative effects of the Games; his alcoholism and cynicism almost seems like an symptom of PTSD. The depressed states of the 12 Districts and their almost apathetic states to the violence and devastation of the games is another way of the Capitol asserting itself over a seemingly "inferior" nation. Regardless, there is hope with Katniss and Peeta, found in the next two books. (less)
Part of the appeal behind Gloria Whelan's novel Homeless Bird is its probing investigation of a culturally taboo topic: arranged child marriage. In...morePart of the appeal behind Gloria Whelan's novel Homeless Bird is its probing investigation of a culturally taboo topic: arranged child marriage. In Western society, child marriage is considered an injustice and many steps have been taken to remove this restriction and "death-sentence" of a child's life. However, child-marriage is not the only social investigation Whelan makes of rural and traditional Indian society. Vrindavan, the city of widows, expands the reader's view into a whole new cultural tradition, where widows are cast out of their homes by their closest relatives to fend for themselves.
Although these women are considered just another mouth to feed and house to their relatives, Whelan does an excellent job counteracting this negative perception with her protagonist and heroine, Koly. Koly is humble and practical, yet a dreamer. Her artwork reflects her early home life of simplicity, hard-work, and love. However, after moving into her husband's home, Koly's hope diminishes. She believes she is nothing and is considered "nothing" by her Sass, a spiteful woman who abandons Koly for her own convenience. Regardless of the injustices presented to Koly, she remains optimistic about one day escaping her Sass and returning to simplicity. Koly's perseverance translates into a theme of the novel, which suggests to adolescent readers that optimism in its purest form is hope.
While Whalen offers several commentaries on the tragedies behind Indian culture, she is by no means bashing on its culture. Beyond the destitution and poverty lies a rich culture that provides several positive glimpses into a culture beyond the negative stereotype. The emphasis on community is emphasized throughout the novel; Koly even develops close relationships with several female (and male) characters. The community and compassion that exists between the widows at Vrindavan also demonstrates the theme of perseverance and, ironically, the relationships the widows form with one another is stronger than the relationships in their actual family (or husband's home). Whalen generously references these relationships within her novel and it is through these relationships, beginning with Chandra, that provide Koly with enough strength to continue living under Sass.
Whalen's simplistic, yet raw language also appeals to readers. A small portion of the novel describes Koly's thirst for knowledge and her subsequent attempts at reading with her father-in-law. This reflects into Koly's style, a linear and concise narrative referencing the many hardships of her life. The novel's carefully crafted plot and resolution in compelling enough to pull in readers without being predictable. As a whole, this novel offers valuable insight into the norms and cruelties of another culture that, despite our efforts to deny it, resurface in our own culture or society.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a commentary on the complicated and taboo subject of teen suicide. Through his brilliantly schemed plot and nar...more Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a commentary on the complicated and taboo subject of teen suicide. Through his brilliantly schemed plot and narration, Jay Asher brings up several common misconceptions about suicide: that it's selfish, that it's cowardly, and that it couldn't have been helped. Asher addresses these issues through his two protagonists, Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen, whose simultaneous narratives provide insight on the "snowball" effect leading up to Hannah's suicide. This dual narrative is perhaps one of the strongest facets of the novel; the reader gains both the logical reasoning behind Hannah's suicide, as well as Clay's painful realization that something --anything-- could have been done to stop her.
The passivity and ulterior motives of her classmates and teachers, however, was enough to drive Hannah's depression into something deeper than the typical teenage angst. But what truly drove Hannah to suicide was not her mistaken identity as the class slut/sex symbol, but the rape of her former friend and the fatal car crash involving a fellow peer. These two events forced Hannah to accept the passivity and cruelty that she so detested in her classmates. Again, Hannah was forced to endure victimization, but this time she assumed the role a sort of involuntary victimizer -- her knowledge of the rape and the stop sign incident led to the destruction of someone else's life -- a burden far too familiar and heavy to bear. Hannah gave up because she believed she was stuck in this guilt. Ironically, she passes along her guilt in the form of 13 tape cassettes to 13 unsuspecting classmates.
Hannah Baker has a complex characterization. Through the thoughts of Clay Jensen, we learn of the assumptions and rumors circulating around her reputation. We learn that she is beautiful, friendly, and highly desired. She almost seems a little too perfect in her beauty, leaving her unapproachable to many, namely Clay Jensen. But Hannah's suicide and tapes were a way of exposing herself in a manner contradictory to her reputation; the tapes exposed her raw thoughts and emotions that she reserved exclusively to herself. While some may view Hannah's tapes as a cruel, eternal reminder of her classmate's failure, there is a tremendous amount of closure that comes through her tapes: justice. The lives of those mentioned on those tapes would never remain the same. It is likely that those guilty will face some sort of penace or reprehensions from their actions. But beyond the guilt there lies closure and a chance to learn from past mistakes -- a gift Hannah Baker believed was unavailable to her.
Asher is by no means condoning suicide in his novel. Rather, his novel paints the perfect picture of a person slowly dying and the total ignorance of those surrounding her. The novel's themes echo its moral: intentionality can sometimes substitute itself as courage.(less)
John Corey Whaley's novel Where Things Come Back echoes another classic novel of teenage angst and cynicism: J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye...moreJohn Corey Whaley's novel Where Things Come Back echoes another classic novel of teenage angst and cynicism: J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Many of Holden Caulfield's struggles, like loneliness and self-alienation, are replicated within Whaley's novel with protagonist Cullen Witter. Like Caulfield, Cullen is on a search for meaning in a seemingly "phony" world filled with things such as the Lazarus Bird -- a fake creation that only inspires false hope. Cullen and Caulfield also resort to self-alienation as a haven for their insecurities. Cullen's comment to his best friend Lucas, "I want to sit in this house and mope around and be sad that my life is complete shit from here on out" (174), and his relationship with his father demonstrate his tendency to internalize his insecurities and pain. His cynicism, then, is a type of a defense mechanism he assumes when faced with difficulty. Further, Cullen's asserts his "cynicism" whenever he is faced with uncertainty of people. He takes it upon himself to assume the worst of people or, in some instances, to choose to ignore the good.
However, unlike Caulfield, Cullen knows that he is not a true cynic. He admits that " I can't seem to be a pessimist long enough to overlook the possibility of things being overwhelmingly good" (5). This self-actualization is also connected with the complicated age he is in, of the in-between time of adulthood and childhood. His desire to leave Lily, Arkansas and his distaste for those who come back again reflect his own vulnerabilities. What Cullen wants most (and what his has avoided) is to be an adult, a reality now offered (and repeated) with the novel's opening chapter discussing a most sobering reality: a dead body.
An interesting facet of this story is that it is told from the future. Cullen seems to be narrating from a later time period filled with reflections and talks with a mysterious Dr. Webb. From these conversations, Cullen forms the novel's resolution..."the meaning of this was not to save you, but to warn you instead." (227) With this, Cullen is dismissing the Lazarus woodpecker and all that it symbolized. He is also dismissing his own dissatisfactions that seem to inhibit growth. Gone is the cynicism; Cullen has "learned" to embrace the uncertainty of life...and it tends to make his reunification with his brother all the sweeter.
The strongest aspect of this novel was its plot and character development. Without the strengths of these two, the reader would have been unsatisfied with the end resolution and ambiguity concerning many of the characters. (less)
America is considered a "melting pot"; a land of opportunities and wealth. Many immigrants flock to America seeking the American ideals of prosperity...more America is considered a "melting pot"; a land of opportunities and wealth. Many immigrants flock to America seeking the American ideals of prosperity, equality, and democracy. But is America truly heaven on earth? Korean immigrant and novelist An Na grapples with this theme of disillusionment - American and otherwise -- in her novel A Step from Heaven . Her story focuses on Young Ju and her family as they learn to acclimate to the American way, such as learning English, finding work, and dealing with the stress and adversities of success.
Young Ju's narrative is precariously woven together from the dual perspective of an American and a Korean. A central theme in this novel is the struggle to maintain loyalty to a cultural identity -- a crisis Young Ju's endures as she attempts to bridge two cultural extremes. Throughout the plot, Young, along with her mother and brother, learn to resist the pressure to forfeit their Korean identity. They learn that America is daunting and often breaks her promise of prosperity and happiness, instead offering something equally as valuable: a new beginning.
Although this is An Na's first book, it is clear that she has a gift. Her prose is delicate and parallels the fragile and fraying nature of Young Ju. Na's prose does not force her characters upon her readers. Rather, she slowly builds her characters through the their adversities of violence, shame, and discrimination. A chronicle of an immigrant, Na's vignettes offer commentaries and insights into the cultural and economic disparities between immigrants and Americans. For example, we learn through the relationship between Amanda and Young the differences in child rearing, job wages, and communication that exist between these two cultural groups. We also learn, however, of the similarities between humans regardless of race or culture -- that when faced with hardships, one tends to gravitiate toward grace.
Overall, A Step from Heaven offers a compelling perspective into an issue replicated in our own reality: America and immigration. Because of its relevancy, literary quality, and originality, this novel best fits the interest of any reader. (less)
Steve Harmon is "young, Black, and on trial" for the robbery and murder of Alguinado Nesbitt, the owner of a drug store in inner-city Harlem. The nove...moreSteve Harmon is "young, Black, and on trial" for the robbery and murder of Alguinado Nesbitt, the owner of a drug store in inner-city Harlem. The novel's title, Monster -- a label granted to Steve by the prosecution --refers to the strange breed of individuals within society, "who are willing to steal and to kill, people who disregard the rights of others" (21). This definition poses the novel's central question and theme: what are these "rights" and who are entitled to them? Even further, what is truth? Myers' characters struggle with this question; the jury, Steve, attorney Kathy O'Brien, and Steve's father all confront “reasonable doubt” concerning Steve's single claim of truth: his innocence.
According to Steve, "truth is what you know to be right" (221). The problem with this premise, however, is that in order to know truth, you must first know yourself. This is Steve's struggle. By the end of the novel, he creates movies to "look for one true image" that credit him a "good person." Through this, Myers asserts a twisted irony in this quest for truth; the film began with a star of solid, credible moral character, but ends with a "monster."
Although the majority of the novel revolves around Steve's ambiguous and discorded morality, Myers also touches on minor themes such as race that interfere with civil justice. The two boys on trial, Steve and King, are Black; Osvaldo, a fellow consort in the robbery/murder, is Puerto Rican. To juxtapose this, all three attorneys are white. At one point Steve's father states that perhaps her should have gotten Steve a “Black lawyer.” Steve refutes this, saying race does not matter. Personally, I disagree.
Monster deserves its grand number of accolades and praises. Myers weaves an ambiguous moral dilemma that, along with the fictional jury, relies on the reader to form conclusions regarding Steve's innocence. Sure, he didn't pull the trigger and was exonerated from his crime, but does that excuse him from the death of an innocent man? These ambiguities all merge to form a thought-provoking commentary on race, identity, and morality. (less)
American Born Chinese seems to be a hodgepodge of culture, religion, and stereotypes. The protagonist, Jin Wang, is a first generation Asian- Americ...more American Born Chinese seems to be a hodgepodge of culture, religion, and stereotypes. The protagonist, Jin Wang, is a first generation Asian- American who struggles in fusing together the two essential (and equal) parts of his identity: "Asian" and "American." After transferring to a new school from San Francisco Chinatown, Jin Wang is immediately marginalized and labeled an outcast due to his race. Jin Wang remains uncomfortable in his own skin until the arrival of a new foreign student from Taiwan named Wei-Chen. The two boys become best friends due to their love of Transformers, but also relate on a deeper context -- on what it means to struggle with being "different" in a nation and age where conformity is synonymous with culture. But Wei-Chen is both a grace and an embarrassment to Jin; the picturesque Asian, Wei-Chen is a nerd and oblivious of peer pressures, style, and cultural norms. Nonetheless, he remains faithfully devoted to Jin, although the two end their friendship when Jin offends and betrays Wei-Chen's friendship. A main theme in this novel is reconciliation, not only in identity but also in friendships. The narration is divided equally into three stories which all weave and converge together at the end to reconcile Jin and Wei-Chen, as well as offering a commentary on the individual journey of self-identity. The two other stories revolve around an egotistical Monkey King and a teenager named Danny who, along with the pains of dating and high school, must endure the humiliating visits from his painfully cliched Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. All three plot lines eventually align and the three characters are united in a sort coming-of-age process that all readers can relate to. Oddly, however, in author Gene Luen Yang's effort to expose cultural stereotypes, he seems to typecast others into an unflattering light. For example, the love interests of both Jin and Danny are blonde, thin, and sweet. Even Greg is cliched as the blonde, attractive "prep." Other examples are a bit more crudely drawn, such as the overweight "bullies" who exude testosterone. One even happens to be wearing dog-tags and camouflage. Yang also uses crude humor that at times seems unnecessary when considering the heavy tones of religion that alternates as an second theme. The characters Tze-Yo-Tzuh and Lai-Tso are the Eastern religious parallels to Western Christianity, despite being written within Chinese mythology. In many ways, I believe they are representative of God the Creator and his Son, Jesus. Yang is quite blunt in involving his religion in his graphic novel; he even paraphrases Psalm 135 in one section. As a whole, I enjoyed Yang's graphic novel. This wasn't my first experience with a graphic novel, but I found the images and caricatures to enhance many aspects of the story. Conversely, I found the comic strips to take a bit of fun out of the joy of reading. Perhaps I am still a novice in the graphic novel genre, but I prefer to stretch my imagination when envisioning the text. The plot, however, was ingeniously written, especially when it came to the resolution. I recommend this book to any reader. American Born Chinese is a great read to those curious about culture -- and to those who are not. (less)