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The NYTimes is at it again. Robert Lipsyte wrote a lovely little article on boys and reading. The book blogging community has already reacted (also: here and here), but there was a specific aspect of the article I wanted to address. The problem, he writes is that:

The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters. (emphasis mine)

Not only does he not back up his claims with statistics, his condescending tone implies that the highest a female M.F.A can go is midlist fiction (which is usually true-only 30% of Pulitzer Prize winners for Fiction are female). While editors, librarians, and teachers do tend to be female, male authors still dominate the bestseller lists. Currently, seven out of ten authors on both the  children’s chapter and paperback lists are men.

Aside from that, he does not go on to expound on how we can change the trend that “teenage boys will rarely read books with predominantly female characters.” Guess what, women have been surviving and thriving in a male dominated world for, I don’t know, all time? And we’re doing just fine. We read, enjoy, and fall in love with books that are written by men as well as women, because that is what brings us the best life experience. We are not taught from an early age, as men are, that engaging with or emulating characteristics of the opposite sex will make us worth less. And because of it, yes, teenage girls will pick up a book about a boy and enjoy it.

So where is the part of the article where he asks why boys don’t read books about girls?

I am not saying that boys don’t deserve books that were edited, heralded, and taught by men. Women understand the importance of stories and culture that is by and for the same group. I am saying that in some ways, men need to get over it already and start teaching the next generation that women have voices that are of value to people who don’t also happen to be female.

Really, Robert Lipsyte, boy culture won’t implode if you suggest they pick up a book about a girl. We’ve been reading about men and boys for hundreds of years, and, as you say, girl culture is as strong as ever.

The Republic school system in Missouri has decided to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. Look, schools have a right to decide what books they use and don’t use, but schools also have the responsibility to recognize that they hold cultural and social power within their districts. If your child goes to schools that only have books that support one religion, one culture, or one of any type of thinking, that is the thinking that they will have. For a lot of people, that seems to be enough:

Wesley Scroggins, a Republic resident, challenged the use of the books and lesson plans in Republic schools, arguing they teach principles contrary to the Bible.

“I congratulate them for doing what’s right and removing the two books,” said Scroggins, who didn’t attend the board meeting. “It’s unfortunate they chose to keep the other book.”

I’m sure many people have spotted my issue with this quote. They teach principles contrary to the Bible. I’m sure that’s not much of a problem at their school (strictly speaking, their demographic is probably 90% Christian), but what about that one kid who says in third grade that Jesus isn’t his family’s savior? I don’t see a welcoming, inclusive, and educational environment for any kid who may attend their school in the future.

Why not just have a Restricted Section (a la Harry Potter’s library) where books that have been questioned can stay? Older grades can access them, or students must have a permission slip to check them out. The Missouri school district says that students can read the banned books as part of an independent study with permission from their parents, but they have to get the books themselves. The school will not supply it. Even though they have the book? Both of the banned books have been purchased by the school, but the students are no longer allowed to access those resources. I can’t even…I don’t know how to express my befuddlement.

What do you think? Is allowing the books in Independent Study (with parental permission) enough? Do public schools have a responsibility to provide every resource they can? And can they cite the Bible as a reason against a particular book?

Slate Magazine has named Suzanne Collins one of 25 Americans who “combine inventive genius and practicality,” claiming that:

her dark, bloodthirsty books upended our notions of what young adult fiction should be – and converted waves of skeptical adults in the process.

It’s true that she drew in many previously unconvinced adults to pick up a book that-gasp!-was found in the Young Adult section of their local B&N, but what did Slate mean by “our notion of what young adult fiction should be?”

It is an absence of conflict that appears to be most sought after in YA literature. It seems that as soon as a parent or critic reaches any sort of problem in a YA book, it is immediately deemed “dark” and can no longer be presented as a viable option for minors. But a conflict-less book doesn’t seem like it would be any sort of fun to read, let alone able to help teenagers in their struggle with their own faults and grey areas, leading them to stronger convictions and more articulate beliefs.

Books help readers sort through all of their internal reactions to what’s going on in the real world. Every challenge a main character encounters can transform into a metaphor for the individual readers’ true experience. If teenagers are denied the practice of reading books that can reflect their own life choices back at them, then when are they supposed to learn this unconscious but pervasive skill?

Even more so, books often voice the very thing a teenager wouldn’t dare bring up to their parents or even their best friend. Open a book, and they don’t have to voice their innermost secret aloud to find another person who is going through a similar trial. Suddenly, they can commiserate without ever having to risk ridicule or ostracism, whether their secret involve some awkward back acne, a growing conviction that the religion they were raised in is no longer their path, or the feeling that they might belong to the LGBTQ community.

So perhaps there are things a YA book should be. It should challenge whoever reads it, and it should remind them that throughout this process of being challenged, they are unequivocally not alone.

And how does this relate to The Hunger Games? Katniss faces insurmountable odds, battling both her peers and a seemingly insurmountable foe, while slowly learning to lean on her family and friends in times of strife instead of shrink into herself, away from all the people who love her. Challenge, check. Not alone, check.

Sure sounds like high school to me.

As the biggest children’s/YA series to have ever existed is ending, it seems necessary to have a post on Harry Potter and all he has meant over the years. It turns out I don’t have to write it though, because my little sister summed it up beautifully, and luckily for me she agreed to let me post her thoughts on here!

Harry Potter. Obviously in need of no introduction, Harry Potter has been a part of many teenagers’ lives for as long as they can remember. I was hooked on Harry Potter in the first grade when my teacher read it to us right as the phenomenon began to gain momentum in the United States. Since then I have read every book, been to four midnight  premieres (soon to be five) and been a generally obsessed fan.

But July 15th will officially change that. It won’t change how I feel about Harry Potter, but it will be the last time that I go to the theater at 3:30 P.M., not expecting to leave until 3:30 A.M, it will be the last time I am surprised by what J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Inc. present to the world. It will be be when I say goodbye to Harry Potter as I know it today.

I have been preparing myself for this moment since the seventh book came out in 2007 during the Summer between seventh and eighth grade. I’m a senior in high school now.  Maybe that will give you an idea of how these books and movies have impacted my life.  I’m sure that I’m not alone in viewing the Harry Patter franchise as markers for my childhood. Reading the first book in first grade, getting absorbed by the first three books between second and third grade, fighting with my sister’s over who will get to read the book first when it premiers.

But now I’m sixteen and right on the brink of going to college, getting a job, and being an adult. And I can’t help but also equate the end of Harry Potter with this marker in my life. I think that I will always look back at this Summer as the end of my childhood. Is that sad? I don’t think so, because it is also the beginning of a new phase of my life. And really, I still have a year of high school left so I’m not that worried. But the end of Harry Potter represents to me the end of something that has marked and maintained my childhood up to this point. I’m now old enough to know that I can’t be the totally badass witch that I wanted to be when I was younger, but I am never to old to stop dreaming.

And that is truly what Harry Potter has taught me to do for all these years. It has taught me to dream and to look forward to the future because there is always something just around the corner. Whether it be a book or movie. A school or a job. I will always be able to look at what followed me as I grew up and know that one should not be afraid of death, love is the ultimate protection, friendship is more valuable than any wand, and I should always believe in tomorrow.

Diversify in YA is a really great book blog that aims to further publicize books that actually, you know, have people other than straight, white people in them (not that we aren’t cool or anything, but straight, white people aren’t what it’s all about all the time).

To participate, just start reading some YA books that feature minority or LGBT characters or were written by minority or LGBT authors, and then write an essay of at least 500 words about your experience. Post that essay on your blog, your facebook, your tumblr, wherever, and then fill out the form that you can find on this page.

Need some ideas for great books to read? Look here and here!

Diversity in YA literature is something that I really, really believe in, and I think you’ll be surprised about how much you can change just by reading something that’s a little bit out of your comfort zone.

Oh yeah! Hello, it’s a contest! Two judges will read every single essay, and a winner will get a bunch of amazing prizes from publishers who are sending donated prizes to Diversify in YA right now!

Today the WSJ posted an article about John Green’s as yet unreleased book, The Fault in Our Stars, which has already reached number one on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, even though it’s not coming out until next May. As in, May 2012.

They discuss his use of social networking, and I think they got as close as any publication has ever gotten to understanding what Vlogbrothers is all about, and more importantly, why they’re so successful:

“Mr. Green and his brother Hank, a musician, made early use of the Internet, offering videos and zany postings that gave Mr. Green’s fans a sense of his personality.”

Yes. And no. It’s not just that we get a sense of John Green’s personality. It’s that he and his brother have built a community. In John’s tumblr response he says:

“One of the reasons newspapers and magazines don’t often write about online communities is that it’s impossible to capture in an article what is interesting/fun/awesome about being part of a strong community online. What I love about nerdfighteria is the breadth of conversation: Together, we talk about nuclear power and economically unproductive pennies, about giraffe mating and Paula Deen’s need to ride, about Hank’s songs and my books, about poverty and malaria and truths that resist simplicity. And all the while we have fun and make friends. We get to make interesting stuff with interesting people.”

And it’s not even just that. Nerdfighters have inside jokes with John and Hank. We can go out into the world and recognize another nerdfighter buy the shirt they’re wearing, a hand motion to a friend, a word we overhear in their conversation. It’s like being from a small town in Montana, and then hearing someone mention the town’s name while you’re in Italy. Except that moment of recognition and joy happens everywhere, often. And the community is growing all the time. We aren’t limited to population 1,289.

So that’s why we are so excited about his new book. It’s like if your good friend from high school were to write a book, or direct a movie, or become a journalist for the NY Times. You buy a copy because you not only have the ultimate faith in their ability to produce something you will want to experience, but because you and they are a part of the same community. And that’s just what you want to do for other people who have been where you’ve been and who also find mating giraffes absolutely hilarious.

“It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks ‘censorship!'” -Meghan Cox Gurdon in the WSJ

“As the parent of three avid readers, I agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon’s point that what is considered “banning” in the book trade is known in the parenting world as doing our job.” – Ru Freeman in the Huffington Post

Let’s talk about book banning.

It’s been a big topic the last couple weeks, what with the above two writers and others coming out to talk about the prevalence of difficult issues in YA Literature.

I get what these two mothers are saying. To a certain extent, parents can know what age group a book is aimed at by looking at it, but there is a huge difference between a twelve-year-old and a seventeen-year-old. I understand that it is hard to look at a book in the YA section and know the difference.  So I want to make one thing clear: I am not against guidance when it comes to reading. Hello? 13/16 Test anyone?

The problem is that adults haven’t just been guiding their own children, they have been using their power and influence to make books inaccessible to large groups of people. That is what banning is. They don’t just want a rating system or an alternate book choice, they want the book gone from the community, whether it be a library, a school, or even a bookstore. When you say that my kid can’t read a certain book because you don’t agree with it, then yes, we are talking about censorship.

So please don’t make fun of me and my petticoats, when you are the one trying to censor kids who most definitively are not yours to guide.

When teachers wanted to use Looking for Alaska in their classroom, they sent home a letter seeking approval from each parent, along with an alternate book choice. But that wasn’t enough. Parents sought to have the book banned from educational use at that high school, even though they had not read it, and their kids were in no way being forced to read it.

Have you read Lord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange? No permission slips needed for those, because they’re classics, even though crazy stuff goes down in both of those books.

But Ru Freeman argues that teens shouldn’t read books that tackle difficult issues at all. Not that they shouldn’t read them before they’re ready, not that they shouldn’t read books without a parent’s guidance, but at all. And then she goes on to say that she sought out the fairy tales of “Joyce, Blyton, Donne, Harper Lee and Shakespeare.”

Harper Lee wrote a fairy tale? To Kill a Mockingbird may possibly be the most beautiful book ever written, but there is no denying it is filled with discrimination, hate, and violence. And it is from those that it ultimately draws its beauty.

I think what book banning parents are getting at is that as long as it doesn’t hit too close to home (ie: as long as it happened during the Depression or to two teenagers 500 years ago) then it’s ok. Their kid won’t be affected, right? But if it’s something that they could actually connect with, something that these teenagers could read and for once feel like someone out there understands what it is to be a teenager today, and believes that they are human enough to be able to handle these things, well then, that book has got to go.

Fine. If you want to limit your own kid, that’s fine. But don’t you dare try and take away these powerful and challenging books away from me and my community.

If you do, you can bet that we will pull up our petticoats and shriek “censorship!” as loud as we possibly can.

In honor of the amazing weekend NY is having, I thought I’d recommend some great LGBTQA books!

First up, the lovely Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. David Levithan is one of leading advocates of LGBTQ subjects and characters in YA Literature, and this gem of a book encapsulates the dream. Paul lives in a town where everyone, of every sexual orientation and gender is accepted for who they are. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have boy trouble, and it doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing most of the time, but it does mean he’s free to figure it all out without the added pressure of crazed bullying and discrimination. Boy Meets Boy has been criticized for its idealistic premise, but I think the setting is what makes it so beautiful. A fairy tale for now, but it’s one we can eventually make real.

Levithan also teamed up with my favorite author, John Green, to write Will Grayson, Will Grayson, in which the two main characters share the same name. One is gay. One is not. Throw a musical based on the life of the guy who brings them together in there and you have one crazy awesome book.

It’s not all about the guys though! Check out The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, and She Loves You, She Loves You Not…by Julie Ann Peters for great relationships between some really amazing girls.

So I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a YALit blog for a while now, but there was that little problem of insecurity, so I delayed. And then this happened. And I so wanted to write and rant about it, but I couldn’t. So here I am.

I hatehatehate condescending adults. Adults who think that because kids aren’t yet fully grown, they are somehow less than human, less than real, less than valuable. I’ve had to deal with them all my life, and my main goal in life is not to become one. Spending my Saturday nights hanging out with three of the coolest kids in the city and studying YA Lit 24/7 is helpful, mostly because it means I end up acting more like a sixteen-year-old than a twenty-year-old, and, unlike most college students, this is actually majorly helpful to my job and education.

The point is, this woman wrote an article for WSJ about the evilness in YA Lit. I mean, it’s kind of a moot article because she chose the most graphic, violent, and shocking books on the market. These are not the books that are on display when you walk into Barnes and Noble, and they are not the books that teens are hungrily gathering up like cupcakes at a Bar Mitzvah. False. Advertising.

And does she really, really think her teenage daughter hasn’t come across issues like these in her daily life? 12% of teenage girls in grades 9-12 have been sexually assaulted, and those are only the girls who had the courage to recognize and report the instance. And she thinks hiding these issues from her daughter will help? Even the best meaning parents are often inept at discussing real world issues with their teenagers. There is a huge language barrier there. So here’s an idea. Read books aimed at your teens. Then give the book to them. Then ask them what they think without saying your own opinion. You will absolutely be surprised.

And if you don’t have time to read the books, read YA blogs, read reviews, get informed. Or read my blog. I’ll help you out.