Discovery Theme

This week I read the book I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and, like so many other readers, I was completely taken aback.  Reader after reader, review after review, raves about Nelson’s elevated style of writing. This Book Trailer does a great job of explaining the plot line and capturing the tone of the story with imagery and music for those unfamiliar.

One of the things that is so striking for most readers is the style of writing. Nelson places her two main characters’ stories in 3 years apart, taking a sort of Quentin Tarantino-esque approach to playing with the discourse of a story to emphasize different events in different ways. This book review on youtube comments on the way Nelson masterfully weaves her characters and plot lines in a complicated and intricate way. She also goes on the comment on how this writing style can be hard to get through. She comments that the language and use of metaphoric speech can be elevated for some readers and that, along with the character-driven aspect of the novel, can slow down the pace for some readers.

Interestingly, she also claimed that she had a hard time connecting to the characters, something I myself found to be as far from the truth as one might get. My opinion is shared by a few other critics of the novel. This Critic raves about the way Nelson includes the reader in the story and develops the characters to create a beautiful relationship between the twins that leaves the reader unable to put the book down. Another Critic also comments on how real Nelson’s characters seem. She continues by stating that this novel is an instant classic form the start and one that could “remake the world.”

Nelson comments on her intense characters in a Q&A where she says that the characters “crash landed in her mind” sort of as-is and her real challenge was finding a way to tell their highly complex story. And tackle that challenge she did. This Critic believes that Nelson’s use of metaphors and ways of tackling big topics like grief, loss, betrayal, etc. puts her in a class with Young Adult Literature power-houses such as John Green and Rainbow Rowell and says that reading the book is “a coming of age experience in itself.”

The book has exploded in popularity and according to this article there is even buzz about a possible movie in the works.

Jandy Nelson also has a debut book, The Sky is Everywhere which is absolutely on my list to read next. This Review of it describes and intense story of loss that involves a girl abruptly losing her older sister and how she deals with it. Again, Nelson’s use of slight humor and very real characters explores how to deal with extremely tough issues, and again like I’ll Give You the Sun does a great job of including a romance without it being the central theme for the main girl.

All and all, I think that Jandy Nelson is certainly someone to watch for more genius, moving, intense, roller coaster of books that will be a great addition to a future class library and would look great on anyone’s reading list.

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Non-Fiction Theme

For my non-fiction themed novel I was assigned a book called Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. I found this book to be extremely powerful and one of the most informative and eye-opening books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The author explains in the introduction to the novel her interest in the stories of the children who travel from Central America, through Mexico, and attempt to cross into the United States in hopes of finding their mothers. She follows Enrique’s footsteps from his many attempts into the United States.

The novel for me represented a point of view that challenges the demonization of these immigrants and shows their struggles and hardships and the price they’re paying for a hope of a better life. This story was so powerful to me in that way, as it was one to which I had never before been really exposed.

One of the reasons I liked the story so much was that it showed the situation from all perspectives. Though we understood Enrique’s mother for wanting to leave Honduras to make more money and provide better opportunities for her children, Nazario makes it a point to show the pain and emotional trauma that comes with her absence for the overwhelming majority of her children’s lives. Nazario does an amazing job of understanding and then conveying to her readers the motives of nearly every one of the people in her story. This is extremely important to me in a non-fiction novel as these are people, not just characters. Their intentions, therefore are usually grounded in a reality for which we can be sympathetic. This is one of the hardest lessons that non-fiction stories teach: right and wrong is not as black in white in real life as in fiction.

This book is one that is both impossible to put down yet challenging to continue reading at points.  Hands down one of the most influential things I’ve read in a long time.

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Individualism Theme

For my individualism themed novel, I chose Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. This book was a great read that I found myself completely unable to put down.

The story depicts a seventeen year old girl named Ginny who has a recently decided aunt that sends her on the journey of her life with specific directions from letters contained in thirteen little blue envelopes that are to be opened at designated times. Ginny is only allowed the most minimal of supplies and must trust her aunt’s judgement of the people she meets and tasks she must carry out. Ginny is sent all over Western Europe by these envelopes and along the way finds love, adventure, heartbreak, fear, and a lot of surprises.

I would defiantly recommend this book to anyone who loves to get lost in the world of a story. Her adventures and circumstances completely engulf nearly any reader instantly.

I think this books fits the theme of individualism perfectly because Ginny is forced to spend so much time alone, with no electronics and barely a change of clothes, that she is really forced to get to know herself and her aunt along the way.

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I chose the photo I did because Ginny spends so much time in various airports, train stations, hostels, etc. and there’s a constant feeling throughout the book of being surrounded by people but feeling completely alone. Ginny spends much of this time reflecting on herself and how she is dealing with her Aunt’s passing.

This book was such a fun adventure and tells an important lesson of the importance of finding yourself. The ending of the story packs an exceptionally powerful emotional punch that shows the importance of moving on and accepting yourself. Great read overall.

Good – Evil Theme

For this week’s theme of good and evil I decided to re-read the Hunger Games novel, paying special attention to when there is a direct, clear opposition between what is good and what is evil. It’s easy to think of exampled from this story, as the idea of the capitol as an oppressive, elitist, bourgeoisie class that is evil to its core. A kind of government that pits its own children against each other for the entertainment of the wealthy is one that is certainly tyrannical and sinister. However, the interworking of good and evil throughout this story is much more complex than just the Capitol is evil and the districts are good.

In the story, several of the districts, particularly 1 and 2, those closest to the Capitol, are described as the Capitol’s “lap dogs.” They also enjoy much more wealth then the districts higher in number and are the most violent and vicious competitors in the games. This makes the whole idea of good and evil so much more complex. If it were as simplified as the Capitol vs. the Districts, an uprising would not take much to fuel, however, now that there is complexity in what districts we as readers feel we can trust, we feel a little bit of that weight of oppression and helplessness that is the tone for most of this first novel.

One of the most complex and pervasive ideas of the good and evil theme, and one that is almost exclusive to the novel over the film, is Katniss’ internal struggle of under which of these categories does she fall? Katniss is constantly struggling with her attitude toward and treatment of her mother, wondering if she should be nicer, or if her mother even deserves all the Katniss does for her now. She also often will find herself hating and judging her stylists and such from the Capitol, and then later feeling bad and realizing that she would probably be wrapped up in the same material, petty issues with which they concern themselves in the Capitol. In this novel, one of her most pervasive internal struggles is with Peta. She knows that she needs to use his love story in order to survive but putting on that façade and toying with his emotions is always uncomfortable, and in the novel, we can read Katniss’ thoughts and feelings on the matter directly.

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I chose this image because not only does it display a fascist propaganda of a tyrant-looking government like that in Panem, it is not a fictional piece. Though the hunger games is a work of fiction, it is a direct commentary on the distribution of wealth in our country and our world today, and this poster shows how Suzanne Collins’ idea that our society is heading in this direction, while epitomized, is not unfathomable.

Undertaking Katniss’ internal struggles as well as the government that oppresses her, are two very different but prefect examples of how the good and evil dichotomy doesn’t always break down into just two parts so easily.

Deception Theme

For the theme of deception I chose to read Othello. While not strictly a young adult text and therefore different from the other stories on this list, I think it is a story that raises all the necessary questions for looking closely at deceit as a theme.

Iago as a character is especially useful to study in close detail when considering a deceitful person. He seems almost inhuman in his quest to destroy everyone and everything around him. This brings about the question of how would this paly be different if Iago had motives we would understand? If we could relate to and sympathize for Iago would Othello still be a hero?

This is such an interesting question because though Iago is certainly the master of puppets in this play, he is certainly not the only one who practices deceit. Like many other Shakespeare plays, many of the events could have been avoided if all characters were more honest and made more of an attempt to communicate with one another.

This play works very well to bring up important moral questions that I think nearly every young adult should find their own way to answer. Questions like: what makes Iago so successful at manipulating everyone? Why does evil triumph? DOES evil triumph? Is deceit ever necessary/forgivable?

These questions and more are all ones that the play brings to the mind of the reader.

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The picture I chose represents the nature of Iago to be always metaphorically carrying a knife behind his back that he keeps a secret for such a long time.

Love Theme

Eleanor and Park may be one of my favorite books I have read in a very long time. The book captured in an extremely powerful way the helpless feeling that comes with being in love at 16 years old. One of my favorite parts about this book is that both Eleanor and Park had much better things to do, it seems, than fall in love with one another. Eleanor’s home life is a huge source of stress and shame for her, soaking up most of her time and energy. She also knows that she would not be allowed a normal relationship, since her step father would try to ruin or stop it in one way or another. Park thinks that Eleanor is weird and slightly obnoxious in the way she steps outside of social norms in such an in-your-face kind of way. Neither of them fell hopelessly in love at first sight the way many characters young adult novels seem to. This story has a grit to it that hit extremely close to home for me and brought me to tears several different times.

One of my favorite aspects of the story is the bullying that surrounds Eleanor and Park’s reaction to it. The way they describe her as someone who attracts that kind of negative attention is what made me fall in love with the character of Eleanor, as I could very much relate to her in this way. I also really like the way that Park at first dislikes just like the other kids for the way she breaks social norms with just her existence. This was made so much more powerful to me when further in the book, though he loved her for the ways she was different, he was still embarrassed to be seen around her. This is a point that I feel needs to be addressed more often in young adult literature. Many novels cover the topic of bullying but the specific pain of when even those who like you don’t want to stand up for you is not a frequently mentioned topic. I think this topic is so important, though because it occurs so frequently in high school, and I think it is important for kids to know that they aren’t the only ones feeling alienated even by the people who love them. Park learns to stick up for her, despite what others say and it seemed to me that only then was he truly able to say that he loved Eleanor. I think that this is an important thing for anyone to understand, especially teenagers experiencing and discovering what it would mean to be in an equal relationship. By the end of the book, I think Eleanor and Park shows a great example of what true, equal, and unapologetic young love can and should look like.

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I chose this image for this novel because much of Eleanor and Park’s relationship comes from a mutual liking of bands, comic books, and other pop culture and entertainment. I really liked this as this was yet another part of Eleanor to which I could relate. I found that not only did she and I have a similar taste in music, but the fact that their similar tastes became mostly the basis of their entire friendship is something I have found to be the case with many of my own friendships.

Sense of Self Theme

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is in my opinion one of the most important young adult literature novels of our time. Though it is a graphic novel, it tells a story with such power and importance, and in such a beautiful way, I think many High School students would benefit in countless ways from reading this book, negating whatever they might lose from its simplicity of language.

The novel follows a young girl in her experiences with the Iranian revolution. One of my favorite aspects about this graphic novel is how much context it gives its readers. One does not necessarily need to be well-versed in the events of the Iranian revolution to be able to sympathize with the trials the main character must endure and with the entirety of those effected. In this way, I think this book would be extremely beneficial to high school students who, though it would be ideal that they do, usually do not have a strong background in such events, making this novel a much easier read than one that would assume an audience with more knowledge on the subject.

Because of how well the book gives contexts for its events provides yet another reason why this book is so important: it’s a great way to learn about the Iranian revolution. This graphic novel is a fast-paced, relatable, hilarious, and horrifying first-hand account of the peoples’ experience at the time. This is a great way to make students care about something that maybe isn’t taught in schools, and therefore open up to possibility that there is more to learn than high school can teach you. This not only prepares students for college but gives them the chance to want to be more active learners in general.

One final aspect of Persepolis that I surprisingly enjoyed was the fact that it was a graphic novel. Though at first I was apprehensive to consider reading a graphic novel, I am so glad I did, and I don’t think this story would be the same if it were told any other way. The illustrations keep the novel extremely fast-paced, a characteristic I think the author would very much agree is one that reflects the events in the novel perfectly. It also keeps the reader active and engaged in a topic they may very easily know little about, something that is no easy task.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Persepolis. The story of a girl trying to find meaning in her religion, values, government, and identity all at once is one that I think a surprising number of high school students will be able to relate to, despite cultural differences.