Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Three Random Books --Part I

This post was inspired by a couple of things. One was a book I read called
Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume. It was a collection of essays written mostly be professional writers telling a story from their life about reading a particular Judy Blume book that was meaningful to them. I picked it up after reading some comments about it someone had written on facebook. I had read a number of Judy Blume books growing up some of which I remembered more than others. She wrote books for young children, teens and even adults. I read all the books for younger children and a few of the teen books. I especially remembered the book Forever being a big deal and the whispered question in Middle School of,"Have you read Forever?" and the mystery behind the book. In fact, a few years ago, I spotted the book in the local library and picked it up. I have to say, I am glad I was spared that book as a 13 year old! Judy Blume is known for her honesty and I'd say liberalism at the time in the information she shared with young teens. She wrote on a variety of subjects that kids might have to deal with such as bullying, moving, death,puberty, and sexuality.

The second thing is the frustration and even anger I feel when I walk through the young adult section at Barnes and Noble and see the horrid choices that are put out their as popular reads for teens especially teenage girls. These things left me wondering just what sort of books are teens picking up and where are they finding their inspiration, new ideas, and help with discovering the world through books.

My intention had been to go to Barnes and Noble and pick up 3 young adult bestsellers to read and check them out to see just what teens are exposed to. I still plan to do that, but I found myself wandering the young adult section of the public library and wondering just what my own daughter might pull off the shelves if she had the freedom to read whatever she wanted(she chooses, we approve,and we do make errors). I tried to randomly pick 3 books off the shelves but at the same time avoid the obvious drivel attune to the Sweet Valley High books of my generation. I also tried to have variation, and I have to admit I did judge a bit by the cover; but I really didn't know what the books were about when I chose them other than I could tell one dealt with magic. The rest of this post is based on the three books I picked.

I'll start with the one book I actually liked and for the most part approved of: Elske. I have to admit the cover of this book drew me in as it was Vermeer' painting Girl with a Pearl Earring . Elske is set in medieval times; she is a 12 year old girl living in a rather barbaric society where men are animalistic and women primarily worthless. She has been selected to be a sacrifice for the Volkking on his deathbed. This set her up not only for death but for being repeatedly violently raped beforehand. Her grandmother arranges her escape from the area and takes her place. This is easily done due to darkness and the drunkeness of the men involved. Elske makes her escape and joins up with some travellers and continues on with them to their city. She finds a place taking care of a variety of people in several households. Her lifedevelops some interesting traits in her such as a fierce loyalty with unusual courage yet stoic. Without telling the rest of the story, we follow her through several years of her life and the situations in which she finds herself involved. I found it a rather interesting read and a decent page-turner. It was thought-provoking, a worthwhile read, and not particularly graphic. I did find myself wondering what made this a young adult book other than the fact that the main character started the book at 12 years old. I think it is more suited for an older teen or adult.

The second book I picked up was Luna. I found the title a bit intriguing since I knew Luna to mean moon so I snagged it. Turns out this book is about a boy who was transgender, his sister who was the only one that knew his secret and his best friend(a girl that had a crush on him.) I had to endure his angst over knowing he was a boy who should have been born a girl and what all it entailed. He would borrow his sisters room to dress up and put on make up and do his nails. He eventually decided he needs to "come out" and be true to who he is and how this affects him and the people he cares about. There was quite a bit of "agenda" in this book explaining the difference between homosexuals, transvestites, and transgender and the need to be accepting of all types of people for who they really are because " is all ok." For some one like me, I found it all a bit gaggy. I found if laid on rather thick and a book really written just to make a point and not so much telling a good story. That might be a harsh judgemental on its literary merits but I did find it a bit hard to remove myself from my opinions on the topic to judge the writing itself. The sister was definitely the best character. Not the kind of book I want my kids picking up at the library. I am all for teaching my kids my values including my views on how God created the sexes. ( and yes, I know this will irritate a few of my readers ;-)

Lastly, I picked up book #1 of the Sweep Series,Book of Shadows. I could tell by the cover and the titles of the other books that it dealt with magic. I always wonder about books that may have been Harry Potter inspired and how they compare so I picked this one up. (I have no clue if it was Harry Potter Inspired or not)It really wasn't a badly written book though nowhere the ranks of literature. A new kid moves to town; he is good looking and seems very confident and sure of himself as he gets to know people which makes him rather popular. He is involved in the Wiccan "religion" and seeks to get other people to join him. He is particularly interested in one girl that he suspects is a full-blooded witch and has strong powers. He is correct and she begins to discover just what her powers are and how to use them. It was a rather short book and quickly led into the next book and the next one for a total of around 11 books or so. I read the first several before I fizzled out and decided I really didn't have time to read any more garbage. What I thought was scary was how these books portray Wicca as being a lovely religion based on creation, the creator, and kindness and love for all. That is one way the new kid draws others in. Only later do you discover that he is actually a part of a evil coven. While evil witches are rare they do exist and it is their hunger for power that drives them. These books did a rather good job of making Wicca look attractive with just that little bit of risk that seems to often draw teenagers in. The kids and the magic in this book are nothing like the kids and the magic in Harry Potter. Again, not a book that I'd want one of my teens to pick up.

There is no way to judge the reading material available as a whole from random books picked up at the library, but it is a reminder to pay attention to what our kids are reading and check them out. I do find it frustrating that there is such a lack of good quality material and a bit scary knowing that what they read shapes their thinking.

Lastly, I call this Part I, because I still plan to do the same thing at Barnes and Noble where I can find out what are the popular books instead of my random sampling of books that no one may even be picking up. Do teens even read library books these days I wonder??


Samantha said...

What a great idea to do that experiment!

Nan said...

Wow. Thanks for suffering through that for the sake of posterity (and the rest of us! LOL) Yikes!!

Anonymous said...

"Pieces of Georgia" by Jen Bryant is a good piece for young girls. Try it out!