Tag: dystopian lit

Save the CT state library plus thoughts from the 2011 Connecticut Library Association Annual Conference

Update: the state library may be safe, but the details aren’t settled yet.

As I write this post, Connecticut is facing the elimination of funding for its state library. While the mission of the state library is “to preserve and make accessible Connecticut’s history and heritage and to advance the development of library services statewide,” it does that in such important ways. From the CLA website:

If the State Library goes away there will be no more:

If you are a Connecticut librarian or resident, please please please call Governor Malloy at 800.406.1527 and tell him that you are a Connecticut resident, that you’re concerned about the elimination of state library funding, and that you want the state library to continue to be funded. Here’s a longer description of what the state library does and what will be lost [PDF] and some talking points [PDF] if you feel like you need them. At the very least, please sign this petition.


The 2011 CLA Annual Conference was last week, and I was able to attend on Tuesday, the second day. It was kind of fun because for the first time, I had an employer who paid my registration, and for the first time I knew people at the conference and didn’t have that awkward moment at lunch surveying the tables and trying to decide who looked friendly enough to welcome a stranger.

I attended four different sessions, checked out the exhibit hall, and then listened to the keynote speaker. Here are a few notes from the sessions I attended. (more…)

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2 Comments May 13, 2011

Short reviews: BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS by Anna Godbersen and DARK PARTIES by Sara Grant

The cover of Anna Godbersen's YA novel, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS. The cover shows a young woman with blonde, chin-length hair reclining in a silver dress. The title is superimposed on this image.

Bright Young Things
Author: Anna Godbersen
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 389
ISBN: 9780061962660
Publication date: 12 October 2010
Review book source: my library

In 1929, Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey set out from their Ohio town for glittery New York City. Though the two friends escape their bleak Midwestern lives together, each has her own ambitions: Letty to become a famous actress and singer, and Cordelia to find her father. The story is occasionally difficult to swallow–Cordelia is too readily accepted by her father once she finds him–and it takes until nearly the end of the book to pick up. Godbersen’s narrative also follows a third person, society girl Astrid Donal, but Astrid’s disaffected languor sometimes translates to just being boring, and the three girls’ lives only fully intertwine in the last scene. However, there are plenty of parties, nights at speakeasies, and handsome young men, and the story ends with a stronger set-up for the sequel. This first book in a new series by Godbersen reveling in the last summer of the Jazz Age lacks the foreshadowing and urgency (and thus the hook) of her Luxe books, but fans of the kind of historical fiction that is a period piece, the setting a backdrop against which romances blossom and are cast aside, fortunes rise and fall, and the lives of bright young girls making their way in the world are lived will be waiting with bated breath for the next installment. 3/5.

The cover of Sara Grant's YA novel, DARK PARTIES. The cover shows a red snowflake dripping down the cover, which is in blacks and greys and has a ghostly image of a person's face with his or her eyes covered by someone else's hands. The title and author's name are above the snowflake.

Dark Parties
Author: Sara Grant
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780316085946
Publication date: 3 August 2011
Review book source: requested from publisher via NetGalley

Generations ago, Homeland closed its borders, sealing its citizens within the Protectosphere. In the years since, supplies have started running out and the limited gene pool has erased most physical differences between people. The government strictly controls everyone’s lives, and sometimes people go missing, leaving no trace behind. Neva and Sanna can’t stand living under that kind of control anymore, so to recruit others to their cause, they stage a Dark Party. But when Neva and Sanna begin their rebellion and the government lashes back at them, Neva thinks she may be on her own, and too deep to be saved. The title of Grant’s story is puzzling: there is only one dark party and while the book opens with it, its importance seems disconnected from the rest of what follows in Neva’s story. Some elements in Grant’s vision of the future are to be found in other dystopian stories–the protective dome over the country also appears in The Sky Inside and The Other Side of the Island, the missing citizens can be found in The Other Side of the Island, and the dwindling resources and need for recycling is prominent in The City Of Ember–but she does introduces new ideas (everyone looking the same from years of inbreeding, and there’s a disturbing twist at the end when Neva discovers that girls are exploited for their reproductive capabilities). Fans of dystopian lit will enjoy these new twists and another tale of government control gone too far, but Dark Parties fails to stand out from other offerings in the genre. 2/5.

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2 Comments December 1, 2010

The history of YA lit for adults reading YA

One of my coworkers who is a children’s librarian is also a member of a grownup book club that, at her suggestion, read Neal Shusterman’s Unwind for their meeting this month. She asked if I could put together a selection of books that represent what’s popular among teens at our library now, and also suggest some other YA dystopian stories that she could show to her book club during their meeting this week. I also put together a super-short history of YA lit, a summary of what’s going on in YA lit now for adults who haven’t read YA since they were teens themselves, and further suggestions for reading and sources to find more awesome YA books.

Since this was for her to present to her book club, I didn’t cite sources throughout, but I drew on what I learned during the course of my MLS (especially from Nilsen and Donelson’s Literature for Today’s Young Adults), the LA Times article “Young adult lit comes of age” from March, the New York Times Sunday Book Review essay The Kids’ Books are All Right” from October (which I discussed earlier), the Library Journal summary of a BEA panel that addressed misconceptions in teen and adult reading, a lovely poster on trends in teen lit by Karen Jensen and the discussion that grew around it on YALSA-bk, and “What’s Happening in YA Literature? Trends in Books for Adolescents” (which was enormously helpful in that it quantified trends that we see anecdotally in our day-to-day work).

If you have any thoughts, criticisms, additions, or questions about this, I’d love to hear them. I’m wondering if I can work this into some other form and use it to demystify YA lit for some of the other staff members at my library, and I’d like it to be as accurate as possible.

The history of YA lit
Young adult novels started out as pulp fiction in the 1700s and 1800s. Kids also read stories like Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Little Women. Starting in the early 1900s, the Stratemeyer Syndicate started publishing books that were aimed at children but weren’t intended for moral instruction–they were intended to appeal to kids themselves. Stratemeyer books were often regarded as trash that corrupted the minds of young people and libraries even refused to carry the books. This is the group that eventually gave us Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that YA lit started to emerge as its own classification. SE Hinton’s The Outsiders was published in 1967, and it didn’t romanticize adolescence or have a nostalgic tone like a lot of books written for teens at the time; it was darker and more real because it was written by a teen. Publishers began to focus on YA lit as distinct from children’s lit or adult books, and the 1970s to the mid-1980s have been called a “golden age” of YA lit. Books were finally being published for teens that spoke to their interests and struggles.

Early YA lit like this was dominated by the “problem novel,” wherein teens dealt with one major issue like puberty, and often featured a coming-of-age storyline when teens moved from feeling like children to feeling like budding adults.

YA lit today
Modern YA lit has seen a move away from problem novels–and even those that remain have changed their focus from puberty and sexuality to things like bullying, eating disorders, racism, and LGBT issues. Modern YA lit is also less about coming-of-age stories and more about a teen’s struggle to find or define him- or herself. Realistic fiction deals with everyday events rather than big, life-changing events. YA lit is moving away from what’s deemed “good” for teens and more toward what teens actually want to read: stories that reflect their own lives, struggles, and interests.

YA authors were raised on things that kept getting better and better. Kids who were fifteen when The Outsiders was published are now 60 and have been writing for decades. And someone who was twelve when the first Harry Potter book came out is 25 now–the next up-and-coming YA author. Young people are reading better and better books growing up–and it’s making for better and better YA authors as those kids become adults.

YA lit is written across the entire spectrum: some books are light and fluffy, some are about the joys and anxieties of being a teen, some are about serious issues on small and large scales. YA lit also covers lots of different genres: sci-fi/fantasy and realistic fiction (including chick-lit) are the most popular, but there are also mysteries, romances, historical fiction, and humor.

Current trends in YA lit at our library include paranormal romance (Twilight), “lifestyles of the rich and famous”-type stories (Gossip Girl), novels in verse (Crank by Ellen Hopkins), genre cross-overs (again, Twilight–it’s about vampires and werewolves, but it’s really a romance), alternating points of view (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), and graphic novels and manga.

We’re now in a new golden age of YA lit. Stories for teens are becoming more complex and nuanced and sometimes are more ambiguous and dark. YA books win national awards, and they’re increasingly drawing in more adult readers. They don’t have as much nostalgia or regret looking back over the years like adult literary fiction (think Atonement) and are often faster reads that adult books and are meant to be entertaining–so they appeal to adult readers, too.

Adults reading YA
In March 2010, the LA Times reported that adult hardcover sales had dropped 17.8% from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009, whereas hardcover children’s and YA lit sales rose by 30.7%. Some of this is due to the increasing crossover appeal of YA lit to adults. We’re also seeing adult authors writing YA novels. Examples include Carl Hiaasen, Joyce Carol Oates, Jack Higgins, John Grisham, Robert B. Parker, and Terry Pratchett.

Some popular YA books that adults are reading are the Harry Potter books, the Twilight saga, the Hunger Games trilogy, The Book Thief, the Octavian Nothing books, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the Percy Jackson books, What I Saw and How I Lied, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains, and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.

If you liked Unwind and want to try some more YA dystopian novels, give one of these a try:

And if you want to read more YA lit, you can use the following sources to find good reads:

The Printz Award: it’s like the Newbery but for YA lit. Announced every year in January by the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), there’s always a winner and a handful of honor books. This award recognizes literary achievement in English-language YA lit.

The New York Times Best-Seller lists also feature chapter books (which reaches up into YA), paperback books, and series books written for a YA audience. Looking at the hardcover lists will let you find new titles that are popular or getting a lot of buzz, and watching the paperback lists can help you see what’s relevant again or doing really well among teens.

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teens’ choice” list determined every year by young readers. (The list is administered by YALSA.) Teen book clubs nominate their favorite titles and then young people across the country vote for their favorites. The list is announced each year during Teen Read Week in October. This is the best way to find out what it is that teens themselves think is the best of YA lit.

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4 Comments November 3, 2010

Reading and re-reading: thoughts on MOCKINGJAY, CATCHING FIRE, and THE HUNGER GAMES

I know I’m a little late to the conversation, but after reading MOCKINGJAY last Friday, I needed some time to digest and reflect. I’m still not finished reading all of the MOCKINGJAY reviews and meditations on the blogs I follow, so apologies if I’m not linking to other relevant blog posts. And this will contain spoilers, so if you still haven’t read MOCKINGJAY (why haven’t you read MOCKINGJAY yet?!), mark this as unread or bookmark it for later.

Also this is super-long (sorry), but I think MOCKINGJAY–and the whole trilogy–really packs a lot in and I’ve had a whole week to think about everything. You’re lucky it’s not longer!

Hearing Suzanne Collins read
Last Friday I got to see Suzanne Collins read from Catching Fire and Mockingjay and get a custom-stamped book. I took pictures and was planning to include them in this post, but a cell phone mishap in the last week means they’re lost to the ether. But Jennifer of YABOOKNERD was there, too, so you can check out her post about the reading.

Anyway, hearing Collins read was especially interesting because she reads Katniss with a “futuristic Appalachian accent.” And you know, given that District 12 is what used to be Appalachia, that makes sense, but I hadn’t been reading Katniss’s voice that way, so hearing her with an accent subtly changed my perception of the character–and I like it. Fan opinion has been mixed and it’s interesting to see what connotations individual people assign to southern accents. For me, it emphasizes that Katniss is from somewhere remote and backward and makes her seem… not simple, but certainly not an intellectual. I like the extra dimension it gives her.

After reading the passage in Catching Fire where Katniss’s wedding dress burns away during her interview with Caesar Flickerman, revealing the black dress underneath and turning her into a mockingjay, Collins read the first chapter of Mockingjay and then started stamping books.

A photograph of the title page of Suzanne Collins's MOCKINGJAY. The page has been stamped with a custom design that includes a mockingjay, Collins's signature, and the words "MOCKINGJAY BOOK TOUR 2010"

Totally worth the wait!

After thanking Collins and collecting a few more temporary mockingjay tattoos and the bag clip I’d won in a post-it-under-the-chair-style raffle, I made a trip to RJ Julia Booksellers, who’d sponsored the event. I was impressed with their selection of young adult and middle grade titles and bought more books than I probably should have! But I like the chance to support independent booksellers–especially ones who score such great author visits!

As soon as I got home, I dove straight in and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening and night reading. But before I talk about Mockingjay, I want to reflect a little on some thoughts I had while re-reading The Hunger Games and Catching Fire last week to get reading for Mockingjay.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire
First off, I can’t believe how much of Catching Fire I’d forgotten! I’d started The Hunger Games one afternoon after class and stayed up super-late to finish it, but that didn’t compare with how I blazed through Catching Fire (hur hur) after receiving an ARC at ALA Annual 2009. I guess tearing through it that quickly really affected my retention. This time I read more slowly, thinking more about themes and watching common threads through the narrative.

The first time I read the first two books, I didn’t feel particularly interested in the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. I was much more interested in Katniss’s survival, in the upcoming overthrown of the Capitol, and in learning more about District 13. And I was also a little irritated that everyone I talked to seemed to think that Katniss had to choose one of them, because in the book she talks about how she never wants to get married and have children because she’d have to watch them go through the Reaping. Why couldn’t Katniss just choose herself and not be defined by the boy she picked? I think that Malinda Lo does a great job of making this point. When I was pressed, I would claim allegiance to Team Gale, because I wanted Katniss to be able to move on and have a life after the arena, and Gale represented the unspoiled part of her life to me. Gale also stood for the revolution, which I was excited about because revolution–successful or thwarted–is always the exciting part of dystopian lit.

But after rereading THG and CF one right after the other, I couldn’t believe how much my feelings about this had changed. I was still firmly on Team Katniss for all the reasons Malinda Lo outlined, but if she was going to wind up with one of the boys, I didn’t see how it could be anyone other than Peeta. I think Angie Manfredi’s argument that being on Team Peeta is a feminist statement is an interesting one (she also mentioned in an email to the YALSA-bk listserv that Peeta does stereotypically “feminine” things, whereas Gale does “masculine” things like mining and hunting), but for me it’s was more an in-world consideration of Katniss’s future. Especially with her nightmares and Peeta’s ability to comfort her, I don’t see how she could wind up with anyone who wouldn’t be able to understand her time in the arena, that part of her life that had so shaped who she was–and Peeta (and possibly Haymitch) is the only one who could ever understand that. Gale could comfort her and try to offer her normalcy, but being in the Games so changed her that I don’t think she could return to that normal life like I’d previously wanted for her. If it was going to be anyone, it was going to be Peeta.

The first time I read Catching Fire, I was caught by surprise at Katniss’s return to the Games. I’d been hoping for more on the mounting rebellion in the second book, and to have her return to the arena almost felt recycled. But after re-reading it (especially doing so immediately after finishing The Hunger Games), I was struck by how putting Katniss back in the arena did give us a chance to see the growing rebellion. Her preparation for the Games and then her time actually competing was markedly different because of the way the tributes were friends, acknowledged each other, and even stood in solidarity against the Capitol. The preparation and competition were peppered with incidents of teamwork and defiance–and really, these stories are told from Katniss’s perspective, so seeing small things like the tributes standing hand-in-hand after their interviews or the sacrifice that Mags made was a more realistic introduction to the rebellion than some sort of seismic political change or bloody invasion or whatever. In Catching Fire, we get a very local view of how everyday life is changing and how even big events seemingly entirely under the Capitol’s control are showing weakness.

I also think that sending Katniss back to the Games was a good way to make whatever happened in Mockingjay even more shocking and different. The Capitol’s grip on the population certainly wasn’t strong enough to have another round of the Games, and the danger Katniss was in after being snatched from the arena–and the unknown perils Peeta was facing since he wasn’t rescued!–was much more immediate than the relatively gentle cliffhanger at the end of The Hunger Games. After reading the first two books in the series, you know that whatever comes next in the third book was going to be different and much more dangerous.

Mockingjay
And was Mockingjay ever different! This was a very grim book. I mean, the subject material in the first two books is surprisingly heavy, but it had a dash of adventure to it with Katniss trying to fight for her life and survive another day, another minute. There was some excitement in the prospect of a rebellion against the evil Capitol. But in Mockingjay, we’re thrown into the dirty, gritty details of that rebellion, and there’s nothing adventurous or exciting about it.

Katniss is a broken shell of her former self, haunted by nightmares and a directionless anxiety. She’s having a hard time getting by on a day-to-day basis, and her relationships are fractured. Life in District 13 isn’t some sort of paradise where refugees from District 12 are living happy lives–it’s strictly-regulated with daily schedules, brutally-enforced portion control at meals, and plenty of knowledge available only on a need-to-know basis. Life–and the narrative of that life–feels hopeless and dark and relentlessly soul-crushing.

But as strictly-regulated as life in District 13 is, there’s also a certain lack of structure in that no one knows what the future holds. In the earlier books, there was structure for both the characters and the readers in the rituals around the Games. But in Mockingjay, there are no Games and all of the previous structure provided by life in the oppressive grip of the Capitol are gone. There’s less direction, less certainty, less assurance that things will go as planned–or that there will even be a world left in which things and plans exist. The rebels might win against the Capitol, but they might be utterly crushed, and even if they did win, at what cost would that victory come?

The horrors of people’s lives up until that point–being in the Games or being firebombed out of District 12–and the strain of the rebellion and the integration into District 13 and the fear and uncertainty of the future take their toll on everyone. Katniss struggles mentally to hold together the pieces of her life, but so do lots of other people around her. The survivors of the Games are the worst off, and it seems like everyone is on the brink of insanity. This is a very psychological story. Katniss is literally unable to function in certain situations, and other characters make progress only to be shattered again by a simple reminder of the horrors of the past. Everyone is constantly revisiting their own worst moments, unable to escape them. I really can’t talk enough about how dark and anxiety-filled this story is.

That emotional trauma and brokenness and the horror of war seem to be the focus of Mockingjay. The first two books certainly dealt with the perverted pleasure our society takes in violence, and with violence as a means of control, but all of that is turned up to 11 in Mockingjay. Not only is the Capitol bombing hospitals as a form of psychological warfare, the rebels themselves are torturing prisoners, developing weapons that target the weak, and using propaganda to rally citizens in every district. Especially by the end, we see that Coin is no better than Snow–and is maybe even worse. This isn’t a simple story of good versus evil, or the citizens versus the government, or hope versus oppression. It is just violence against violence, inhumanity against inhumanity, with no end in sight.

And Collins creating this world of violence and darkness doesn’t come from nowhere. The rebellion seems like it’s especially violent and the Capitol especially evil, but I think there are real parallels to our world now. Especially for teens who have grown up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and who have maybe had older siblings or cousins or parents go and fight and maybe return or maybe not (or for those actual young adults who have been to war), I think the scenes of walking through the deserted streets of the Capitol, wary of the traps the government has left that might at any moment kill some or all of them must seem especially real. Is there any real difference between the Capitol’s pods and roadside bombs in Afghanistan? Is our bombing of weddings all that different than the Capitol’s bombing of a hospital?

And that kind of darkness seems to reside in individual people as well. In the previous books, Katniss was confronted with her own brutality as she realized that she was utterly focused on survival, whereas Peeta was trying to retain his humanity in the face of the Games. She didn’t understand that idea at first when they sat on the roof together before their first time in the arena, but she later saw what he was saying, that she didn’t want to just be another piece in the Capitol’s games. And in Mockingjay, she’s again confronted by her own inner darkness. We’re not just talking a little character flaw here: there’s a real cruelty inside Katniss that she often has to fight against. She worries about using people in her own games and at the end when the rebels have successfully overthrown the Capitol, she votes to have a final Hunger Games with children of the Capitol to rub their faces in their defeat. And the final act that allowed the rebels to triumph was the bombing of children and then the medics who tried to save them–and I do think that it was the rebels who set off those bombs and not the Capitol. It seems that Collins is saying that within all of us–both in our characters and in our psyches–there is a darkness capable of incredible cruelty and destruction.

I think that the love triangle–or what remained of it in Mockingjay, since Katniss is completely incapable of dealing with other people in any way–embodies the essential, overarching struggle in this whole trilogy. Peeta represents retaining our humanity, compassion, and having limits to what we’ll do to get what we want, even to survive. For Peeta, the ends do not justify the means. Gale, on the other hand, is single-minded in his drive to overthrown the Capitol. He is willing to kill children and medics to win. He doesn’t understand Katniss’s compassion for her prep team; for him, they’re simply part of the Capitol’s machine. And in Mockingjay, it seems like Gale is going to survive and that Peeta is not. Peeta is presumed dead, Peeta seems to have capitulated to the Capitol, Peeta is so completely no longer himself that he wants to kill Katniss, Peeta is a broken shell of his former self that cannot tell reality from propaganda. But by the end, while Gale has a fancy new job assigned to him by the rebels, Peeta has regained his humanity and it is with him–with that recognition of maintaining our compassion and our ability to empathize and know when we are fighting evil with evil–that Katniss lives out the rest of her life. Readers who are still upset that Katniss didn’t wind up with Gale miss the entire point of the trilogy.

Katniss’s struggle against being another piece in the Capitol’s games at first brought to mindTally’s struggle to write her own story in the Uglies trilogy. Throughout each of the books, it seems like she’s a pawn in someone else’s powerplay, and the final scene in the book is about her finally being able to take charge of the direction of her own life, to be her own person. It seems hopeful. But even though Mockingjay ends with relative peace, with Katniss returning to District 12 and restarting a life there, with her and Peeta together, and even–in the future–with children, I didn’t feel that sense of hope at the end. Even though she was moving on, it seemed like she was irrevocably broken and the best she could hope for was that her children would have a whole and happy life. Katniss might be able to go on and live a life with Peeta, but she’s never going to get a fresh start. She’s always going to carry with her what happened–what she saw, what she did, what happened to all of the people that she lost. When I finished the last sentence of Mockingjay and closed the book, I still felt haunted by what had happened. I felt such heartbreak over everything that had happened, over the brokenness in everyone’s lives, and all the pain they’d experienced. How could anyone ever be whole again after that?

I think, too, that Prim’s death is especially heartbreaking because it comes at the very end, it’s senseless, and she seemed to have been doing okay. It seemed like Katniss was going to be forever broken, but that Prim might have some hope because of Katniss shielding her, that she might become a doctor and have a better life than she would have in District 12, despite everything that happened to get her there. But then her death is part of an especially heinous act on the part of the group that seemingly gave her those opportunities. What I think is really interesting, though, is that I was so emotionally invested in her and her future that her death was heartbreaking–but children being sacrificed for no good reason (for evil, even) is exactly what had happened every year for the last 75 years in the Hunger Games. I guess it can be easy for all of those children who died in the arena to just become numbers, but Collins makes sure you get the emotional impact of a character being senselessly cut down in her prime at least once. You take that emotional devastation and extrapolate over generations to see the brutality of the Huger Games–and then extrapolate again to our own world, to our own wars, to our own cruelty.

Some final thoughts
I think Mockingjay is absolutely the most powerful of the trilogy. In it, we get more: more information about the world in which Katniss lives, more violence and survival, more confrontation of the darkness within and around us, and more wrestling with man’s inhumanity to man. But it’s also very different than the first three books, and I can certainly imagine readers walking away from Mockingjay feeling betrayed or disappointed or hurt. I don’t really see how the series could have ended any other way, though.

I was sort of surprised that I didn’t hate the epilogue. I really hated the epilogue in the last Harry Potter book; it felt like a fanfic where everything turns out just! fine! and look! at all! the extra! good! stuff! The epilogue here seems similar at first blush–Katniss and Peeta living together in District 12 with babies!–but it doesn’t carry a happy ending feel. It still feels like Katniss is broken and the only real hope is in future generations who won’t know the devastation that she did. That’s a very removed sort of happy ending! And while I’ve heard some cry foul over Katniss settling down, losing her fire (or something like that), and having children, I think that change in her character–that she’s not out crusading in another district like Gale, that she finally acquiesced to having children–shows that her experiences have changed her, and illustrates that tenuous hope for the future. It felt like it fit.

I’ve seen a short-hand summary of all fantasy novels that goes something like “good triumphs over evil, but not without cost.” In general I think that’s actually pretty accurate, but with the Hunger Games trilogy more than any other book, I feel like the good has never been so tenuously surviving and the evil so insidious and the cost so high. There’s no clear-cut good and evil here, but there is the idea that sometimes fighting evil requires too much darkness of yourself and that the ends don’t justify the means–and this is the idea that I think triumphs in Mockingjay. Our humanity is the only thing that keeps us from being monsters, but holding on to that humanity can seem hopeless, and it may feel like we’ve lost it already. But by propping each other up even when we feel we’re broken, by recognizing the humanity of even our enemies, by not answering violence with violence, we can maybe repair ourselves and our world. Maybe.

Where do we go from here
The Huffington Post featured six children’s books to read after finishing Mockingjay, and that list has been met with widespread derision because it includes–no, seriously–Amelia Bedelia. Is Peter Steinberg high? This list must have started out as his favorite children’s books and then an editor was like, “Hey, Mockingjay, that’s a kid’s book, right? That’s a big deal now, so let’s tie your list in with that!” because there’s no way that someone who’s just finished Mockingjay and is asking for more is going to be satisfied with an Amelia Bedelia book.

In response, a number of bloggers have made lists of their own, and you’re going to be much happier with their suggestions. Here’s a selection:

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4 Comments September 3, 2010

MOCKINGJAY countdown: just 22 days left!

The cover for the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, which will be released in August 2010. The cover depicts a purplish-grey bird with wings spread over a blue background with an abstract design of breaking rings and lines. The title and the author's name, Suzanne Collins, also appear on the cover.

It’s August and it’s just over three weeks until Suzanne Collins’s MOCKINGJAY, the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, is released.

I was originally planning to find a bookstore that would be doing a midnight release and camping out to get a copy, but then I got word that Suzanne Collins would be visiting a bookstore not too far from me to do a reading and stamping (rather than a signing, due to a previous injury) a few days after the book comes out, so as much as it’s going to kill me to wait all day Tuesday, all day Wednesday, all day Thursday, and all morning Friday that week (I might have to just stay off the Internet entirely!), I’m going to wait. It’ll be worth it!

Dystopian stories are my favorite, so I’m predisposed to like the Hunger Games trilogy anyway, but I think Collins does a great job of building a whole and complete fantasy world that’s internally consistent in its history, politics, and mythology. I also love the way she gives you just enough of that history to hint at a bigger picture we don’t know yet. And it’s not just in the Hunger Games books that she does this: the Underland Chronicles, which follow the adventures of Gregor the Overlander and are for younger readers, have that same kind of detailed world-building that makes for a successful sci-fi or fantasy book. Anyway, while I’m really on Team Katniss more than I am Team Peeta or Team Gale, I’m really excited to see more of the world Collins has created in MOCKINGJAY and to finally get some answers about District 13!

In the meantime, School Library Journal has an interview with Collins and Michelle of Galleysmith kicks off the 13 District MOCKINGJAY Blog Tour with her post representing District 1. She’s giving away a boxed set of the trilogy, so make sure to enter the contest! Doug of ScifiGuy.ca represents District 2 and will be doing his post this Wednesday.

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1 Comment August 2, 2010

Miscellany: iPhone + book = PhoneBook, stats from IMLS, and Hugo Cabret in production

My last few posts have been pretty long, so how about some short snippets?

I recently linked to Laura Miller’s New Yorker article on dystopian YA lit; Kaitlin Ward of YA Highway responded to that with a blog post on the difference between dystopian and post-apocalyptic lit (which I found via Melissa of Librarian by Day).

This Japanese YouTube video demonstrates how a book and an iPhone (iPhone + book = PhoneBook) can combine to create something clever, cute, and fun:

During my last semester of my MLS I worked on an independent study group project with a number of other students and a professor to help create a community digital repository with a library in northeastern Indiana. That library, the Eckhart Public Library, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and got a write-up in one of the Fort Wayne papers that includes some neat photos. (More on our project)

The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) issued a press release today announcing–among other things–that public library visits and circulations per capita had increased 20% from 1999 to 2008 but that the number of librarians per capita had remained the same (about 4 librarians per 25,000 people), so the same number of librarians are handling more patron visits and more circulations. The press release also mentions the availability of computers (doubled in the last ten years), attendance at children’s programming (up 13.9%) and overall programming (up 17.6%), and “the distribution of library outlets by state and geography type” (in 16 states more than 50% of library outlets are in rural areas).

Brian Selznick’s Caldecott Award-winning THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET is being movie-fied by Martin Scorsese; the cast includes Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Moretz, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Frances de la Tour, and Richard Griffiths. The film is going to be in 3D and production recently began in London. As always I’m nervous about movie adaptations, but I’m really excited about who’s involved with this one so I’m letting myself get my hopes up.

And finally, more book art! This time it’s by Su Blackwell and it’s amazing. These are just a few examples; you’ll have to check out the artist’s gallery for more.

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1 Comment July 1, 2010

Miscellany: authors vs. works, dystopian YA lit at the New Yorker, and online reputation management

Wired’s Mr. Know-It-All argues for differentiating the author from the work in a recent column and also touches on how hard it is to keep kids from reading what they want:

The bottom line is that many a great author has been a lout. Yes, it’s disappointing to learn that one of your literary idols doesn’t share your values. But that doesn’t negate his talent for mixing philosophical heft with orbital bombardment. And besides, any ban you impose will likely backfire. Kids dig anything that’s taboo, and books are pretty easy to obtain. (At least until the firemen come.)

The first statement in the Library Bill of Rights says in part, “[m]aterials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” I struggle with this sometimes because as an informed consumer, I don’t want my money to support things with which I don’t agree, but as a librarian I understand that we need to be able to differentiate the work from its creator.

Since I was a teen myself, dystopian novels have been my favorite, so it’s been exciting to see so many–and so many good ones–published in the last few years. Laura Miller’s article today in the New Yorker, “Fresh Hell,” she discusses the “recent boom in dystopian fiction for young people,” pointing to the Hunger Games trilogy (just 71 more days until MOCKINGJAY comes out!), the Uglies trilogy, THE MAZE RUNNER, INCARCERON, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, LITTLE BROTHER, FEED, and THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO as examples. She recognizes that dystopian lit has been part of the YA landscape for decades (specifically naming THE HOUSE OF STAIRS–one of my favorites as a teen!–and THE GIVER) but writes, “The world of our hovered-over teens and preteens may be safer, but it’s also less conducive to adventure, and therefore to adventure stories,” and wonders if this is the reason dystopian lit is seeing a surge in popularity. Miller notes that YA dystopian lit tends to be less soul-crushing than dystopian novels for adults, and using THE HUNGER GAMES and UGLIES as examples, draws parallels between YA dystopian narratives and the adolescent experience. It’s an interesting read and is also another example of how adults are noticing–and reading–more YA lit than ever before.

A graph showing what percentage of respondents said they took steps to limit the information about them that appeared on the Internet, sorted by age. Young people are the most likely to do so and seniors are the least likely.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has another report out on young adults and tech; this one finds that young adults (actual adults ages 18-29 in this case, not teens) are the most likely of all age groups surveyed to actively manage their online reputations. (The graph I’ve included here is just one dimension of online reputation management.) We change privacy settings, we Google ourselves, and we limit who can see our profiles. A lot of the time when we talk about teens and tech, we talk about making sure they’re safe online, but it sounds like seniors are the ones we need to be talking to about online reputation management: just 20% of respondents ages 65+ take steps to limit what information about them appears online.

And finally, another post from Offbeat Earth that shows some really amazing art made with books and pages from books. The one with the octopus is my favorite!

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2 Comments June 14, 2010


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