Posts filed under ‘Children and Young Adult’

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Look. I like John Green. Teenagers seem to respond to him, he is an excellent writer, a charismatic person, and has been quoted on Tumblr and in his vlog as saying many feminist things (most notably, telling a girl to break up with a boy who told her she was too smart for him). He’s great.

Looking for Alaska is his debut novel. It was published in 2005, won a prestigious award in 2006, and was still on the New York Times’ list of YA paperback bestsellers 10 years later. Teenagers are still obsessed with John Green, though less so with Looking for Alaska, which is the only book I could find on the shelves of my local library.

All of this is to set up the fact that, while I enjoyed reading this book, and I would have loved it as a teenager, as an adult, I found it hard not to place it into a broader context of literary tradition. Green has since evolved on many of the issues I talk about here, most notably in Paper Towns, where Margo gets to speak for herself and make the points I wish Alaska had been able to.

But this is the book that rocketed Green to success, and there’s inherent value in it because it’s been so popular. But it’s because it’s so popular that we need to look at it closer, and what I found bothered me.



October 25, 2017 at 3:20 pm Leave a comment

‘The Marvels’ by Brian Selznick


Did I go into Brian Selznick’s The Marvels expecting some beautifully detailed pencil drawings? Yes.

Did I go into the book hoping for something as whimsical as Selznick’s first such book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret? Yes.

But did I go into the book expecting to break down in desolate weeping about three-quarters of the way through, profoundly moved? No. Not at all. Wow, did I not see that coming. (more…)

February 19, 2016 at 6:35 am 1 comment

Why I didn’t finish ‘Divergent’

Divergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011It should not be news at this point that I am open to reading YA fiction. Twilight, Matched, Uglies, The Selection, The Hunger Games, etc., all YA fiction with sort of interesting premises and huge fan followings. As a student of popular literature, I figure, if a book has a huge following, it has to be doing something right.

That’s also true of Veronica Roth’s Divergent. This is the first novel in a hugely popular series about Tris, a young woman who takes an aptitude test meant to help her choose one of five “factions,” which will determine her future. Born into Abnegation, the faction defined by selflessness, Tris is used to putting others first. However, when she takes the test, she discovers she’s “divergent” — not so easily sorted or categorized. Though Tris is free to choose whatever faction she wants, in theory, she shows qualities of three of the factions, which is apparently dangerous. Tris chooses Dauntless, a faction defined by fearlessness, and is launched into a world she knows nothing about while trying to figure out why she’s different.

On its face, this is an excellent story. (more…)

February 8, 2016 at 5:24 pm Leave a comment

‘Matched’ by Ally Condie

41-NcdNDtQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Let’s start at the beginning. Matched is the story of a 17-year-old girl named…crap. What is her name?

Okay. Matched is the story of a teenaged girl named Cassia Reyes, who lives in a dystopian future nation called The Society. We are, apparently, meant to believe that this is as a result of some kind of war, that The Society was created as a place where people can live peacefully and contentedly, without violence, doubt or really any unhappiness or injury until the age of 80, when they die. Yes, it is ripped off from The Giver (a far superior work, but I digress).

The story starts on the night of Cassia’s Matching Banquet, a night sort of like a prom where she’ll find out who she is going to marry. Oddly, teenagers have to decide at this age whether or not they want to spend their lives with someone at all. But the point is, Cassia’s personal information has been run through some sort of database along with the personal information for a bunch of other people her exact age and she’s been matched with — oh boy! — her childhood best friend.

But wait. When she goes to insert a MicroCard into her Port to reveal more information about her Match, a different face appears. Could The Society have made a mistake?

Yes. They could have. But not one bigger than the mistake I made in trying to listen to this book. (more…)

September 22, 2015 at 12:56 am 7 comments

‘The Serif Fairy’ by Rene Siegfried




Just to mention a few of my thoughts as I first cracked open The Serif Fairy by Rene Siegfried. Also “my god, how did he make this?” and “at last!” I certainly didn’t actively realize my life was lacking a fairy tale made entirely of fonts, ligatures, alphabets, and ampersands, but somehow, as I read this one, a void in my reading life was filled. At last!


On its face, The Serif Fairy is an inevitably quick read — it is technically a picture book for children, after all — but it is a book well worth savoring and giving a little extra time to. Each page is a masterwork in typographic artistry, complimenting and enhancing the charming story of a font fairy who has lost one of her wings.

As she travels through Garamond Forest and Futura Town, our little heroine encounters beautiful, whimsical creatures and places made up entirely of letters and signs. Each creature, each building, each tree, each and every thing in the book is a stunning creative work unto itself, so the book as a whole just knocks you over. Yes! What?! WOW!

January 20, 2015 at 6:04 am 2 comments

LT Book Club: ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ by Lewis Carroll

aliceMy New York Book Club’s October read was Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. This is a total classic and tells the follow-up story of the famous Alice after she returns from Wonderland. After Alice climbs through the mirror in her drawing room, she finds herself in the world of the Looking-Glass, where all kinds of ridiculousness occurs before she wakes up back home with her kittens.

I honestly can’t say I enjoyed Through the Looking-Glass, even though my favorite poem, “Jabberwock,” is first found in its pages. I just found it too silly, which I realize is sort of the point and I should probably loosen up. All the same, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at Alice.

Recommended Edition:
I read the Books of Wonder edition published by Morrow in 1993, which was terrific because:

a) it had beautiful silver edges
b) it replicated John Tenniel’s illustrations using the original wood-blocks
c) it followed Victorian standards of type-setting and font

It was a great little copy and I highly recommend it.

I recommend taking a page from Alice in Wonderland and having a little tea party. Break out the tea cups, sugar cubes, and loose-leaf! (more…)

November 25, 2014 at 6:48 am 1 comment

‘The Westing Game’ by Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is one of those books I can’t believe I escaped middle school without reading. Not only is it something of a contemporary classic of children’s literature, it’s also just the sort of thing I would have loved as an eleven-year-old (or so): a twisty mystery with a precocious girl and a possible murder at the heart of it. I was all about those sort of books and, accordingly, devoured every single Zilpha Keatley Snyder book at my school’s library.

But for some reason The Westing Game remained unread. I honestly have no idea why since it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. The Westing Game tells the story of multimillionaire Sam Westing. Upon his (apparent) death, his sixteen designated heirs gather in his spooky old mansion to play “The Westing Game,” which will give each of them a chance to walk away with all his riches.

It’s a fun book, although, much as when I re-read The Egypt Game, I was quite surprised at how seriously the book treated certain social issues—and how topical such things still are today. Although published in 1978, The Westing Game openly approaches today’s hot-button issues including racial prejudice, bullying, and even the immigrant experience. It’s an amazingly on-point book that squeezes a lot into a little murder mystery for children. (more…)

November 18, 2014 at 7:02 am 3 comments

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