Thursday, November 1, 2012

In Defense of YA Literature

I was reading a book on a break at work a few days ago, and a coworker asked me what I was reading, presumably just to make small talk. I smiled and showed her the cover: last week, I was reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians for the first time and really enjoying it. She made this face that seemed half-startled, half-perturbed and entirely perplexed: it was like she had no idea how to process this, like an adult just should not be reading these books, and she just didn't know what to do with the fact that I was reading them anyway. She made an excuse and backed out of the break room, and I had to wonder what was happening.

Since when has the enjoyment of any particular genre been something to mock others for? Growing up, I remember lustily reading whatever I could get my paws on. I would cart dozens of books home from the library and line them up against the wall at my grandmother's house, selecting which to read next like a recruiter trying to find proper soldiers for battle. "You're next," I would declare to another book, curling up on the sofa as I drank whatever was on the page before me in, reveling in it.

At some point, I moved from the childrens' and teens' sections to the adult one. I remember how grown up I felt, how high up the shelves were, how I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the books in the highest places.  It was a bit like drinking coffee when you're too young: it doesn't taste good, you don't understand why people like it, but it's for grown ups and so it must be sophisticated, clearly I'm supposed to like it, so I'll just keep trying and one day I will wake up with a taste for it. (Sidebar: I still have not developed this magical adult's taste for coffee).

There were issues present in those grown-up books that I couldn't fully understand, though: couldn't even try. Divorce? Nope. Miscarriage? Nah. I'd read them dutifully, learn the characters and let the familiar essence of a book's comfort soak in, but it just wasn't the same. I'd always drift back to something written for my age, because it was something I could understand. Failing a math quiz? A bully at school? Unrequited preteen love? These, these were the issues I understood.

Of course, I'm almost 24 years old and nearly done with my Masters degree. I don't pretend to understand some of the more complex points of the human condition, but I understand a broken heart now, I get how it feels to experience death, and I can sympathize with many adult characters in the books I tried to read so dutifully as a child and a young teenager. I understand Tyrion Lannister now, and while I didn't try, I'm sure that myself at fourteen wouldn't have fully understood his plight, or his place in the human race.

Getting my Masters in Library Media comes with certain duties, though. And one of those is staying up to date in the current literature for my target age group: teenagers. Of course, this is also a bold-faced lie: I love literature designed for teenagers, and would read it anyway. This is just a very convenient excuse to do so. Take my new friend Percy Jackson, for instance. He's twelve years old and facing some pretty intense issues, some I've faced (trying to find yourself and your place in the world) and some I haven't (single-parent households, having a stepfather, being a demigod, you know the usual). I can sympathize with his plight, too: just as I could with that of a Nicholas Sparks heroine.

So much adult literature is bogged down. Flowery language, sex scenes, grand monologues that don't advance the plot at all. A book that would take about 200 pages normally can inflate to 500 when in the hands of a verbose author. This is something that teen literature has right, due to one main thing: teenagers have the attention span of a gnat. If you can't capture them and their attention rightnow, it's gone. A young adult book will have plot points paced closely together, one after another, boom boom boom, and then the book will be over. Sure, there's an occasional monologue or soliloquy, but by and large it's a very quick and easily-done business: get in, tell the story, get out.

There's something to be said for grown-up stories, of course. I always will appreciate a so-bad-it's-good Nora Roberts, and I will indulge in some Nicholas Sparks from time to time. But I think I will always come back to my beloved young adult novels. They're quick, juicy, to the point, and my inner child understands how it feels to be thirteen. My adult life might change constantly, as being in your twenties is anything but sedentary, but I'll never lose sight of how it is to be twelve, in sixth grade, and confused as all get-out. This is why I want to be a high school librarian: to play in this world forever? Why on Earth not?

Celebrate young adult literature yourself, today. Enter Beth Revis's giveaway on her blog, or just go by your local library and pick up a YA novel today. You won't be sorry: it'll be quick, dirty and a thrill ride to be sure.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Unreal Candy - Get Unjunked At Your Local Supermarket

It's unreal how much I loved this stuff. But seriously, guys, take a look at this.

I'm sure you've all seen this display in your local grocery store. If you're like me, you've knocked it down with a cart a time or two in an overeager excitement to get to the oatmeal down the cereal aisle. But when BzzAgent offered me the chance to sample this new confectionery delight, how could I possibly say no? Free chocolate? I'd be crazy not to!

I made my way to my local Kroger and selected two bars of chocolate for my taste-testing needs. I went with, firstly, the "Unreal 5," a bar with chocolate, caramel and nougat. It comes in a delightful red wrapper, like so:

That's some good stuff!

My other selection was "Unreal 8," which consists of chocolate, caramel, nougat and peanuts. If you can't tell, I am a huge fan of caramel. Om. Anyway, my other friend is purple and looks like this:

My two favorite colors are purple and red, so this felt apropos somehow.

What I found really neat about this campaign is that the back of each wrapper boasts the nutrition facts, but not in the secluded "shh, it's not healthy and they can't know about it!" way so many other candy bar manufacturers do. The Unreal bars put them in a fun, block-style numbering that makes it easy to read and consult right there in the candy aisle!

My abhorrent kitchen lighting got a bit in the way, but you get the idea.

Upon opening the bars, I was greeted with a lovely chocolate feast. Unfortunately the #5 bar got a bit smooshed on the shelf, and I have a bit of a habit of picking up damaged goods on purpose (I own way too many stuffed animals I "felt sorry for" as a child and just had to bring home, for instance). So the photo of the red bar here might be a bit more mashed-up than most normal Unreal #5 bars.

Afternoon delight

I began my conquest with the red bar, Unreal #5. I bit off the piece of the bar that had broken off in transit and was pleasantly affected: it was definitely different, but not in a bad way at all. The chocolate tasted a little chalky, which I admit was slightly off-putting, but then I got to the caramel. Oh, heavens. That was some good caramel: creamy, stringy, the consistency most of us wish caramel could be all of the time.

Just look at all that gooey goodness!

I was very curious if Unreal #8, my purple friend, could live up to expectations after the heaping praise I'd just slammed Unreal #5 with.

It did.

The peanuts added just the right amount of salty taste to the texture of the chocolate and the gooey caramel, and what resulted was what Snickers wishes it could be: you could taste the different flavors and textures, but it wasn't a bad thing, really it just added variety. I was shocked that something like this could taste so good - a lot of times, the "natural" stuff just doesn't taste quite right, and I know you know what I mean, blogland. This, however, was a game changer all around!


I gave a couple of coupons out to friends who also wanted to try the bars, and they reported back similar results. It seems that all around, the Unreal campaign is a great way to "unjunk" candy, indeed!

- Interesting, fun wrapping
- Clearly labeled nutritional information that isn't too bad considering what you're eating
- Delicious caramel
- Did I mention the caramel?

- Not too sure what's up with the naming system - you'd think they would have come up with some sort of sassy name instead, not just "#5"
- The chocolate felt a little grainy/out of place, but it wasn't enough to keep me from eating the stuff, to be sure!

Go get unjunked at your local supermarket, store or wherever the aisles are narrow enough to cause a 3-cart pile up as you knock down a display stand! Tell 'em Patricia sent you.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Golden Disappointment

Sometimes, you just cannot wait to read a book. It seizes you by the wrist and yanks you in one direction or another and you are just so overtaken with zeal at the thought of reading it that you inhale it instantly, like an asthmatic given an inhaler after a 5K marathon, sucking it down greedily.

The Golden Compass was not one of those books.

Sorry, Lyra.

I wanted to like it, I really did. I went into it with grandiose expectations and all of that ilk. I read this book once, as a high school student and I remember just soaking the entire trilogy up and wanting more. I figured that surely, if I loved it at 15, I'd love it at 22.


I made it approximately 35 pages and I just couldn't. I had too many questions, and the problem was, in my eyes, that for a young adult book, it sure has a lot of lofty vocabulary and expects you to know a lot about, well, everything.

The first sentence of the book is: "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen." All right, she's going through the hall to- wait, what the hell is a daemon? Let's go down the page a paragraph or two. Oh, here he is mentioned again: "Her daemon's name was Pantalaimon, and he was currently in the form of a moth[...]" Superb, we know it's a moth, but what is going on? Why is it in the form of a moth? What is it when it's not in the form of anything? Why can it talk?

Other words that are mentioned but never really given a definition include:
- Tokay (we infer that it is a beverage and can be old. probably a wine, but I don't know - and if I don't know at age 22, the target audience sure isn't).
- Aerodock (what the heck is this? All the book says is, "No word from the aerodock" (p. 5). It must be where something docks, but what? The ... aero? This bothered me so much I had to put it down and complain inwardly for a bit.
- The book mentions several times in this first portion that the scholars come into a particular room to partake in "poppy and wine" (p. 7). However, they never outright say what poppy is. Of course, as an adult I know they must be smoking opium, but what 14 year old is going to know what that means? To them, a poppy is a flower, and who eats flowers? I can't imagine this is anything less than confusing.
- "It was said that the Tartars had invaded Muscovy, and were surging north to St. Petersburg, from where they would be able to dominate the Baltic Sea and eventually overcome the entire west of Europe" (p. 10). Okay. I am a graduate student. I have a Bachelor's Degree and consider myself fairly educated. I have no idea where Muscovy is, and the only reason I assume it is a real place is because I know St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea are real. Audience ignorance galore, here.
- A man works at the college and his position - and name - is "the Sub-Rector" (p. 17). I know that this is a ruler of some kind, but what ninth grader can guess that?

These are questions that had still not been answered by page 35. The issue I take with this is that I, as a teenager myself, had known what a daemon was when I first read this book, but the average young adult probably has no clue what a daemon is. I understand that what Pullman is attempting to do is to pull (pun intentional) you into the story and slowly start to give you details about what exactly the history of this civilization is, what a daemon is, etc. But honestly, if I were 14 or so and an average American student picking this up at the suggestion of my media specialist, I would be bored so fast it would make your head spin, as evidenced by the fact that I began this book February 5th and did not give up until March 12th - it took me 36 days to read 35 pages. I just couldn't get into it.

So, with a heavy heart, I am shelving (pun intentional part 2) my copy of Pullman's classic young adult religious commentary, and picking up a different book to fulfill the Fantasy Fiction requirement of this course. I'm sorry, Mr. Pullman. Maybe when I have more time and a very available dictionary.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Fault In Our Stars - A Review

John Green has always been one of my favorite authors. I first became a fan of his when watching the YouTube channel he shares with his brother Hank, the vlogbrothers. At that time, he had two books out, one of which was the (sometimes in)famous Looking For Alaska. I have since read all of his books, though in my mind none were quite as good as Alaska - until I finished The Fault In Our Stars.

I picked it up February 1st ad read it a little bit off and on - between meals, waiting in lines, all of that fun jazz. But last night, with about 150 pages to go, I suddenly could not put it down even if I had wanted to. I stayed up until nearly two in the morning finishing it, because there was just no way I was going to be able to sleep without knowing what happened to Hazel and Augustus.

The book centers around the lives of two main characters - Hazel and Augustus. Hazel is a teenager who has lung cancer - the kind that typically just kills you pretty quickly, but due to some drug testing from an ambitious doctor, it was discovered that a particular pill concoction was actually enough to keep Hazel's issues at bay well enough for her to function, though she always has to have a cannula in as without it, she cannot breathe well enough.

Hazel is dragged to a "cancer support group" sort of a thing that she detests, but it makes her family feel better about her condition, so she goes mostly to humor them and just get out of the house. She is acquaintances with a boy named Isaac who has only one eye due to cancer, and together they form a mutual, mostly unspoken, friendship based entirely on the fact that they both detest this support group. Then, one day, Isaac brings a friend who has beaten cancer to the support group - Augustus. Gus looks at Hazel from across the room and for some reason she becomes smitten as well, and this is where the story really picks up.

Gus is an amputee, he has one real leg and one artificial one. He has been in remission for quite some time and is attending the group to appease Isaac. But that night, he offers to bring Hazel to his family's house to watch a movie (he claims she looks just like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta and when Hazel says she hasn't see the movie, he drops everything and asks her to come over to fix that immediately). He is very much smitten with her, and she seems to be, too, until he lets it slip that he has but one ex, and when Hazel asks why they broke up, Gus admits that she died.

From then on, Hazel can't quite make herself return Gus's feelings. She is afraid she is a ticking time bomb, she doesn't want to put him through two dead girlfriends when one was more than enough. But Augustus is relentless and caring, and this is the crux of the book: cancer, love, a limited time on earth: it's all there.

This book took my breath away with its frank honesty. John Green is not afraid to "go there" with his books, and he makes sure you know it. He writes Hazel's character with such charm and charisma, and Augustus's as a very persuasive, affectionate young man who just happens to be an amputee. You read this book, and you forget every now and then that Hazel is attached to an oxygen cart, that Gus can't really ever run. You accept them just as people that love each other, and it's only when Hazel mentions something about cancer that you remember.

It is my belief that this book would make a wonderful, beautiful addition to any high school English classroom, especially if someone in the course has been diagnosed with cancer recently. Green talks about cancer and makes it a little less scary, it reminds you that cancer is part of so many people's lives, but it doesn't make them any less of a human being. Green also manages to crack jokes about it through his characters - he takes both a light and dark approach to the topic of cancer and weaves them so expertly that it's a marvelous roller coaster ride of a book. 

I think The Fault In Our Stars would be a wonderful book to discuss the effects cancer has on the body, or even in a unit about diversity or just a book about being a teenager. Hazel's struggles partially have to do with her cancer, but they also have everything to do with her just being a high school student. Green did an amazing job with this one, and I highly recommend it more than there are adequate words to describe, so I will steal a line from Mr. Green himself:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

The Skinny
Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
ISBN: 0525478817
Average Amazon Rating: Five stars
My Rating: Five stars

Friday, February 3, 2012

Concerning Moi

Hello, world! My name is Patricia, and this is my corner of the Internets. You might ask yourself, what separates this blog from dozens of other blogs written by twenty-somethings who post all about life, the universe, and everything? Well, I suppose I am a bit atypical in that regard. While many blogs might concern things like makeup and shoes, clothes and shopping, I myself am more consumed with love for video games, books and my spoiled-rotten kitten.

This blog will contain reviews of books, movies, products, video games and television. It will be tinged with sarcasm, hilarity and the occasional serious commentary. Any questions so far? Good! Let's get this show on the road, shall we?