Tag Archives: John Green

The Fault in our Stars: One Sick Love Story Shows Us What It Means to be Alive

the fault in our starsIf you’ve been to a Barnes & Noble recently then you’ve probably seen the bright teal cover of John Green’s best selling novel The Fault in Our Stars. I haven’t been a stranger to talking about it on this blog either.

If you aren’t familiar The Fault in our Stars or TFioS as the internet refers to it, is about two teenagers Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters who have both been diagnosed with cancer. They fall in love while attending the same cancer support group. It starts off as any other young adult love story would, but Hazel and Augustus have the oppressive knowledge that they don’t have as much time as their peers. Thus, their love takes on a more epic quality and two seventeen year olds teach us what it means to live every day to its fullest and to love like you won’t have the chance to do it again (because we never really know if we will).

Megan, that sounds ridiculously depressing, why would I want to read that? Because while the potential is there for a ton of cliches and melodrama, John Green strives to tell the truth. The characters in this story are sick but does that mean they don’t deserve the opportunity to love? To be happy? To make the most of their lives even if they are threatened to be shorter than we imagine? The beauty of Gus and Hazel are perfectly aware of their situation but they don’t allow it to make them wallow in the fear or depression that goes along with it. Instead, the give in to each other and go for their dreams, and there is a pretty magical trip to Amsterdam involved that will melt the heart of any cynic. It’s hard to explain the magic specifically without a giant SPOILER ALERT.

Don’t have time to read the book? I actually insist that you make time because it is so worth it. But just incase your schedule is that packed, Fox Studios released the first full-length trailer for the movie adaptation today. The movie stars Shailene Woodley (The Descendents, The Spectacular Now) and Ansel Elgort (Divergent). It arrives in US theaters on June 6 and it is bound to make you cry and laugh and realize what it means to make the most of every day we have. I dare you to make it through the trailer without getting a little bit wispy.

“I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” – John Green, The Fault in our Stars

Thursday Morning Melody: A Little Sea Sick

One of the best things about YouTube is the access it provides to independent artists that we may never have discovered through mainstream access. We discovered Ruby Day a few months ago when Vlogbrothers Hank and John Green held a contest for guest hosts during John’s paternity leave earlier this month. Ruby was one of the spotlighted videos and it blew us away.

Her British accent is super charming, but when you think that she’s only 18 and writing such sophisticated songs, it is incredible. This is her sea shanty break-up song. It’s the one John and Hank spotlighted but it’s also our favorite of hers. Our hearts break every time it gets to the “Admittedly I got myself in to this/But now all I really want is to get out/To be the person that I was before/Who looked around herself and saw/A world a little wider/ than the one to which she was bound” verse. You can see the rest of Ruby’s videos here, and we hope that you fall as in love with her and her voice as we have.

What do you think of “A Little Sea Sick”? Tell us in the comments below! 

3 Young Adult Books that Will Make You a Better Grown Up

The third week of October is annually celebrated as “Teen Read Week.” Since young adult fiction is in a golden age and having a large impact on our mainstream media (see: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc) we thought we’d take a look at the section of the book store you normally leave to teenage girls.

NYT Best-selling author John Green says he has no interest in writing about adults because they are too cautious with their emotions. By writing stories about teenagers Green is able to ask and answer the tough questions directly without having to duck around the bush – teenagers go all in when it comes to their hearts and their curiosity. Through those qualities we as adults are able to be more honest with ourselves as to the questions we have about life, love, and the world we live in. Hence the reason for this list. Actually, speaking of John Green, let’s start with him.


1.) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.faultinourstarsbookcover

Story:  Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal cancer. Though doctors have miraculously found a way to stop the disease from spreading she knows she only has a limited time left and her life is defined by being a cancer patient. That’s until she meets Augustus Waters. They fall in love, go on an adventure and break your heart in every conceivable way. Obvious warning: keep a box of Kleenex with you at all times while reading this book.

Why you should read it: If you think about it, we all have the same death sentence as Hazel, hers is just sooner than most of ours. Still, Hazel’s decision to live her life to her fullest capability no matter if she has a few months, days or weeks left is inspiring. TFiOS isn’t about cancer, it’s about life. It’s about lowering our defenses to allow the important people in our lives to <i>really</i> matter. It’s about letting yourself to feel – the good, the bad, all of it – because if you don’t it doesn’t matter when your terminal date is, you’re not living anyway.

Similar reads: “Looking for Alaska” – John Green, “Everyday” – David Levithan  & “You Know Where to Find Me” – Rachel Cohn


the-hunger-games-wallpaper-logo-2560x16002.) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Story: To pay for the sins of uprisers 74 years before them, the citizens of the Panem districts must nominate one boy and one girl every year to participate in the Hunger Games – a sadistic, caged battle to the death for those unlucky enough to be chosen until only one “victor” remains. Katniss Everdeen volunteers as tribute for District 12 to save her sister Primrose from having to go in. As Katniss does everything she can to survive, she unknowingly sparks a revolution that could bring her entire system of life to its knees.

Why you should read it:  There is the obvious argument that by not reading these books (seeing the movies isn’t the same!) you are literally living under a rock. There is more to it than being pop-culturally relevant though. “The Hunger Games” is a story of human nature – how if we go unchecked humans have a disgusting habit of letting our egos destroy ourselves. By sparking the revolution Katniss has an inside look at how societies corrupt themselves, and has to find the strength within herself to stop the cycle from repeating. Most of us can’t relate to toppling governments or taking down dictators, but we can all learn something from breaking negative patterns and making choices to provide ourselves, and those we care about, with a better life.

Similar reads: “Divergent” – Veronica Roth & “The Maze Runner” – James Dashner


3.) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellEleanorPark_thumb

Story: Eleanor is invited back to live with her mother after being kicked out by her abusive step-father for over a year. Every day she has to struggle to stay under the radar from his rage, while protecting her younger siblings and begging their mother to leave. Her life at home and her family’s complete lack of budget make it difficult for her to fit in at school – to the point Eleanor just wants to be invisible. Instead, she meets Park who shares his seat with her on the bus. It starts as a casual sharing of comic books so neither of them has to talk but inevitably they fall in love, and so starts the mission to save Eleanor from her hell at home and for Park to truly find himself.

Why you should read it:  It’s easy to be cynical of teenage love stories. They are too young to know better, right? “Eleanor & Park” proves that teenage naivety actually allows teenagers to fall deep enough into love to find strength and change the world, or at least the world around them. The beautiful thing about Eleanor and Park as characters is that they aren’t perfect. She isn’t a shy and clumsy, but strikingly beautiful damsel in distress. Park isn’t the smarter-than-he-wants-everyone-to-know athlete who gives a chance to the new girl. They have flaws, large ones. They have problems that are even bigger. There’s a quote that says “Love isn’t finding the perfect person, it’s seeing an imperfect person perfectly.” And these kids nail it on the first try. “Eleanor & Park” teaches us to love as deep as we can, no matter how scary it is. It’s a book about trust and inner strength and you find the people who will matter the most to you by being yourself.  By falling in love Eleanor and Park stop trying to blend in and allow themselves to really be seen for the first time.

Similar reads: “The Spectacular Now” – Tim Tharp & “Paper Towns” –  John Green

This is by no means a definitive list. What are your favorite young adult books? Was it “Catcher in the Rye” or something newer? Tell us in the comments below!

3 Videos That Explain the Government Shutdown

Yesterday, after Congress failed to pass a new budget (or a continuing resolution to give them more time to work out a budget), the federal government was shutdown. But what does that mean? It means that government services deemed “non-eseential” were closed until Congress passes a bill to allow them to re-open and some 800,000 government employees are currently not working.

VlogBrother Hank Green (the other VlogBrother is NYT Bestelling author John Green) posted a video yesterday that more clearly explains what it means when your government shuts down, what services are effected, and the deeper root of this problem:

But why is the government shutting done? 

To answer that question we turn to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D)  from Massachusetts. On Monday, September 30, Senator Warren gave a speech on the Senate floor about her disbelief of the current situation. “[The shutdown] is a last gasp of hope for those that can’t deal with the reality of this democracy,” is a quote from Warren’s speech that you have probably seen plastered all over your Facebook pages. Senator Warren drops even more knowledge about the Tea Party contingent of the House of Representatives forcing this shut down as a way to gut the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) in the full version of the speech below:

Wait, this is about Obamacare? Didn’t the Supreme Court already say it was constitutional? 

They did. The Affordable Care Act has been through all the proper steps to become a law – passed by the House and Congress, singed by the President and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. It has checked off all the verses in that infamous School of Rock video we all had to watch in Civics class. And Obamacare is exempt from the government shutdown so it still went into effect yesterday, October 1, making the entire situation even more infuriatingly pointless.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to make a joke when explaining the reality is too baffling. Jon Stewart may have made the best metaphor possible on Monday night’s “The Daily Show” with a new segment “Rockin’ Shutdown Eve.”

In essence, politicians are playing chicken with the paychecks of almost 1 million government workers at stake. They have suspended vital services to underprivileged children and the elderly to bargain for their ideological ideals rather than by their desire to do what is best for this country, and that is unacceptable.

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, supporter of the Affordable Care Act or not, we can all agree that politicians need to stop holding America hostage for their own agendas – and that goes for both sides. We the people elected Congress to represent and work for us, and they need to do better. That’s really what you need to know about the government shutdown.

What do you think of the shutdown? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

I Clapped, I Believe: Peter and the Starcatcher

From Stories are Good Medicine:


There are not many Saturday afternoon experiences truly worth an hour plus drive in a minivan back and forth in the rain with four rowdy third grade boys. Boys whose antics could give the Lost Boys a run for their money.

But I just experienced one of them.

The New York Theater Workshop’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher was such a whimsical, witty, and uproarious good time, it might actually have been worth a minivan ride with double that amount of third grade boys. No, really.

We all know Captain Hook is a diva – but Christian Borle’s interpretation of the vocabularily-challenged, eccentric and over the top Black Stache (the name of the pre-prosthesis pirate imagined by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, on whosePeter and the Starcatchers series the play is based) was sublime. Like Tiny Cooper (from John Green and David Levithan‘s Will Grayson, Will Grayson) on steroids. And more flamboyant-er, if that’s possible (no, good reader, that -er is not a spelling error. flamboyant without the -er does not begin to describe this manly moustachioed menace.)

The rest of the characters – pirates, the lost boys, the boy with no name, the intrepid Molly Astor – are energetic, edgy and full of heart — and the entire cast walks that interesting line between being utterly in-the-moment and utterly self-conscious of their own theatricality. The production has very few props and set decorations – rather, with simple items such as boxes, rope, and toy ships, the cast themselves embody the setting – human beings become tables, doorways, the jungle, the sea. My favorite human-as-setting moment was when one of the cast wheeled in lying down on a dolly – only to spray an about-to-be-thrown-overboard character in the face with two hand held water pump bottles. Signifying sea-foam, of course.

In a world of so much glitz and glamour – theatricality that recognizes its own absurdity is a breath of sea-fresh air. Like children’s literature, the production was a celebration of imagination’s limitless possibilities. You want an explanation for why boys can fly? Sure, I’ll give you one – it’s because of professional starcatchers who have learned the secret of capturing magic celestial star… stuff.

I don’t know what magic star stuff is, but I’m pretty sure this production was drunk on it. And I’m feeling a little giddy too.

Do I believe in Tinkerbell? Well, not so much since she sold out and went all merchandise-y and commercial on us. But will I clap to show I believe in Black Stache and all his theatrical cohorts? I will, and I did, and I do believe – I believe in pirate divas, I believe in hairy men playing mermaids, I believe in political jokes mixed in with tender, heartbreakingly awkward first kisses.

As we were climbing back into the minivan one of the cast walked by: Arnie Burton, who plays the nanny Mrs. Bumbrake. He graciously stopped to chat with his adoring fans. One of my son’s friends yelled out, "Hey Nanna, say hello to Fighting Prawn for us!" Another yelled out, "Hey Nanna, say hello to — nobody for us!"

Arnie nodded, ‘hah hah very funny,’ and walked on. And while I drove that minivan full of rowdy, hungry, not-very-lost boys back to their parents, I couldn’t help think that I had re-discovered a part of my own childhood somewhere on the way.

The run at the New York Theater Workshop ends tomorrow, if the website is to be believed. But keep an eye out for it in other communities – or hopefully on rather than off Broadway!

Boarding Schools in Kids Literature: Fantasy, or a Good Alterative to Killing Off Parents?



For the last two days, I’ve been gobbling up e. lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks  (after recently hearing her read during the NYC Teen Author’s Festival). And while I can’t put it down – its smart prose and witty dialogue earned it a Printz Award and National Book Award Finalist mention — it’s making me wonder:

what’s with all the boarding schools in young people’s literature?

As a daughter of immigrants, and public school attendee, it wasn’t until I went to my (yes, rather elite) East Coast college that I even found out that BOARDING SCHOOLS WERE REAL. It’s true. Until I kept meeting alarmingly confident classmates from schools with names like Andover and Exeter and Miss Porter’s, I actually thought that boarding schools were a thing of historic or foreign climes – only alive and well in England or Europe. As a naiive public school 17 year old, I actually thought that boarding schools were only something that you read about in books.

And now, that I’m delving into this wild and woolly career of kidlit, I’m beginning to wonder: why ARE there so many boarding schools in books?

Although they do, obviously, still exist in the U.S., surely their representation in YA and MG literature is out of proportion to their actual existence in YA and MG readers’ real lives? Think about it – boarding schools are EVERYWHERE:

1. There are magical ones: The classic example being Harry Potter’s Hogwarts

2. There are paranormal ones: From The Vampire Academy to Hex Hall

3. There are ones that break you of your phobias (like School of Fear

4. There are ones that are less schools than camps training demigods to, er, fight cyclops and demons of the underworld and stuff like that (see Camp Halfblood in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books)

5. There are ones that are less schools than training facilities for teen virgins learning how to, er, slay killer unicorns: (See Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant, etc.)

6. Finally, there are ones that are ‘contemporary’/’realistic’: well, if contemporary/realistic kids were as breathtakingly smart and witty as Frankie Landau Banks or the characters in John Green’s Looking for Alaska.

Why is this? Why so many boarding schools of so many varieties? Options:

a. It’s a fantasy: not just the wizards and Olympians, but for authors who didn’t attend boarding school, is it some sort of imagined bliss to counteract the years of social humiliation and pep rallies that was our real middle school/high school experiences?

b. It’s an Alternative to the Ol’ Dead Dad Syndrome: We all know that kid and teen main characters in kidlit must have agency – they must drive the plots of their narratives without pesky things like parents in the way. With that in mind, is boarding school just an easier alternative to killing off old mom and dad before the end of the prologue?

c. School is such an important part of kidlit – boarding school is a way to place that front and center.

While I love of the titles above, I’m a bit curious about the boarding school setting in kidlit, because, while giving kids agency, and focusing on the school experience, what else boarding schools do is effectively erase home life, family, and, yes, parents from the picture. And these seem, to me, such an important part of the growing up experience.

What are your favorite boarding school based books? Why do you think they are such a popular kidlit setting?

I Think I Love You (But Maybe I Don’t): NYC Teen Author Festival










From Stories are Good Medicine:

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending one of the all afternoon symposiums at the NYC Teen Author Festival.

It was amazing.

First of all, it was held in the beautiful 42nd Street New York Public Library Building. Next to the Library of Congress in DC, this is one of my all-time favorite buildings. My heart actually starts to beat faster and, depending on my state of sleep deprivation, I actually get a little teary whenever I enter this temple to books. (Oh, and they have a rockin’ gift store too – but that’s not why I cry – it’s a TEMPLE TO BOOKS, PEOPLE!)

Even more amazing than the building (There was a free Jane Austen seminar going on upstairs from the YA festival for goodness sake! A free Jane AUSTEN seminar! *swoon*), were the people present. There were tons of amazing YA authors in the (relatively small) auditorium. Name the author, they were probably there. David Levithan? (who organized and moderated several panels)  – Yep.  Libba Bray post breaking two of her elbows? – Double Yep. (To see a full list of authors and events, you can go to the NYC Teen Author Festival facebook group page here)

My favorite panel by far during the afternoon was called "I Think I Love You (But Maybe I Don’t?) – Writing About Teens in Love." I didn’t realize that it would be my favorite because, so far, writing about teens in love is something I don’t do that well – although, I do like reading smart love stories (Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by Levithan and John Green are some of my all time favorites).

Each writer read a piece from a recent novel. Hearing these scenes in their own very smart voices was a real treat, and I became an immediate fan of all four panelists.

Terra Elan McVoy went first, and her steamy love scene in verse from After the Kiss made the whole audience want to take off their collective cardigan and have a long tall drink of something. (or maybe a post-listening smoke). Her love triangle tale told in verse went on the TBR pile immediately.

Emily (or E. as she is known to her readers) Lockhart blew my bedazzled socks off by reading a scene from her latest Ruby Oliver book, Real Live Boyfriends. The scene involved a heartbroken Ruby and a stalwart mailbox who would never leave her side, not like… a boy. (those traitors!) It was fan-USPS-tastic. I couldn’t BELIEVE that I was Ruby-uninitiated – a character who likes to talk-talk-talk and live in her head, making quippy remarks about love and snarky observations about life — the perfect heroine for me. I made quick work of correcting that and am currently loving the first in the series (The Boyfriend List) 

Sarah Mylnowski made vivid the anxiety and awkwardness of ‘the first time’ – reading a scene from her forthcoming 10 Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have). The protagonist of this book cannot figure out why her boyfriend won’t just ask her to the basement already. Does she smell? Does she have garlic breath? Is he nervous about getting on the condom? Can the darned movie REALLY be that interesting? 

Finally, Patrick Ryan read from his Gemini Bites – a tale of twins, one a boy, and one a girl, each possibly in love with the same guy. Oh, yea, who might or might not possibly be a vampire. The scene he read was tender, smart, and hilarious (oh, yes, and rather cardigan-removal-inspiring as well!) – about the male main characters’ first romantic encounter with another boy. Well, it’s not his first kiss – that was with his best friend, but it felt like kissing two pieces of uncooked macaroni. This ‘first’ is nothing like that (no macaroni here) – even though he can’t get the recurring thought out of his head that ‘something gay is about to happen now.’  

I absolutely can’t wait to read all these authors – who write with honesty, yes, but more importantly a whole lotta smarts and humor – about teen love. Luckily, I’ll have each of their voices in my head as I read their words.

Zounds! Fie! By Shiva’s Trident! Making Up Cursewords in TV and Literature



From Stories are Good Medicine:

So I’m reading the brilliant Prinz award winning John Green’s novel An Abundance of Katherines when one of the main characters, Lindsey, asks the very question I’ve been wondering for most of the book:

"Hey, why the f— do you and Hassan say fug all the time?"

Of course, in the novel, Linday actually says the expletive. This happens more than 1/2 way through the book, when this question has been burning in the reader’s mind as well. She’s asking the protagonist, Colin, why he and his best friend constantly use expressions like "motherfugger" and "FUG!"

Colin’s answer is brilliant, if only because John Green is obviously making a conscious commentary on the use of swear words in literature itself.  (I absolutely love it when literary characters talk about literature in books. It always blows my mind – I’m always like "you’re a literary character yourself, dude, don’t you realize that?")

Anyhoo, to get back on point… In answer to her question, Colin tells Lindsay the story of Norman Mailer, and his book, The Naked and the Dead, which originally, according to Colin/Green, contained ‘the F-word’ "thirty-seven thousand times…every other word is fug, pretty much." In Colin’s words,

"…he sent it to the publisher and they were like, ‘This is a really excellent book you’ve written, Mr. Mailer. But no one here in 1948 is going to buy it because it contains even more F-bombs than it does Regular Bombs. So Norman Mailer, as a kind of fug-you to the publisher went through his 872-page book and changed every last F-word to ‘fug.’ "

Green’s characters use other made up, or at least, non-English language curse words in the novel. Hassan, for instance, calls Colin a sitzpinkler (the German word for a man who sits down to pee, in other words, a wimp).

Green’s brilliant novel, as well as this fabulous recent post on From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors called "Is it OK to curse in MG books?" got me thinking: what other books or TV shows do I know where made-up curses are used? And does it work? (or get silly/distracting?)

It works in Green’s book, clearly. Words like "fugger," like "sitzpinkler," become a part of Hassan and Colin’s characters, and their relationship. The cool kid bloggers over at Forever Young Adult throw down hilarious phrases like "Subscribe to comments, bishes" and "RSS this shizz." In my own YA WIP, I have my teenage sci-fi-watching heroine use the word "Frak" as an homage to the coinage of the term on one of my favorite sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. (Although in my novel she calls it ‘Spacestar Galacticon.’) How much do I love it when BSG characters say things like "frak" and "frakker" and "frak me?" A lot. Uh-huh. So say we all.

But clearly, there’s different made up cursewords appropriate even for different ages. In my co-written MG WIP, my co-author Karen and I have the father of one of the protagonists, an antiquities expert, use expressions that harken to his mythologically based work. ‘The Professor’ uses expressions like "By Shiva’s Trident!," and "On Osiris’ Throne!"

Only recently, the fabulous Kristin Clark Venuti noted on FB that she wanted to bring back the use of the word "Zounds!" (which is a derivation of the Shakespearean era curse "God’s Wounds" and apparently pronounced zoo-nds). I suggested that if she did, I would bring back an expression my co-author Karen and I used as children: "Gadzooks!"

Other way cool Shakespearean curses that should be brought back might be things like "by my hammer and tongs!" "Tush!" or "Fie!" (Check out this hilarious site on the Elizabethan Insult for more great words, including "whey-faced" and "Canker-blossom")

What are your favorite made up insults? Do they work or should we use the real thing? Or just avoid cursing altogether?

Story Rx: Is Achieving a YA Voice That Important Afterall?

From Stories are Good Medicine:

Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

              –Shakespeare, MacBeth, Act IV, Scene 3
We’ve all heard it. There are three crucial ingredients to any YA novel:

1. Voice.

2. Voice.

3. And oh, yea, did I mention — voice?

Since I’ve ventured into the brand new and exciting world of children’s literature, I’ve heard this focus on the voice in writing time and time again. Voice of course refers to how engagingly a tale is told. But it also means hitting that correct note so that your writing will connect with your readers. For a writer of young adult fiction, this means finding your inner teen voice. Which, unless you are actually a young adult yourself (think S.E. Hinton, or, for a modern day non-novelist, Taylor Swift), ain’t always that easy.

Recommendations on how to go about this vary tremendously – from listening to popular song lyrics, to hanging out in school cafeterias, to reading lots of children’s novels, to eavesdropping in Starbucks. Meg Cabot, author of the tremendously popular Princess Diaries books among others, is known for dropping popular culture references in her writing, while Prinz award winner Libba Bray writes faboo paragraphs like the following (from Going Bovine):

The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World… I know what you’re thinking: WTF? Who dies at Disney World? It’s full of spinning teacups and magical princesses and big-assed chipmunks walking around waving like it’s absolutely normal for jumbo-sized stuffed animals to come to life and pose for photo ops. Like, seriously. (p.1-2) 

Sure, Libba Bray uses phrases like "WTF" and "Like, seriously" in the above sentences… but when we step back and think about it, do these authors really sound like teens? The fabulous combos of Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares) and John Green & David Levithan (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) write teen voices that are smart, edgy, witty, brilliant and, quite honestly, a little not-teen-like.  Consider the following dialogue from Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares between the main character Dash and Lily’s 80 year old aunt, whom they call Mrs. Basil E:

"I need to gauge your intentions," she said, "before I can allow you to dillydally with my niece."

"I assure you I have neither dillying nor dallying on my mind," I replied, "I simply want to met her. In person. You see, we’ve been — "

She raised her hand to cut me off. "I am aware of your epistolary flirtation. Which is all well and good – as long as it’s well and good. Before I ask you some questions, perhaps you would like some tea?"

"That would depend on what kind of tea you were offering."

"So diffident! Suppose it was Earl Grey." (p.150-151)

The ensuing banter about various kinds of tea is one of my absolute favorite passages I’ve read this year. And yet, can I imagine a teen engaging in said banter – nonetheless said references to dillying and dallying or Earl Grey? Maybe not.

But does it really matter? And here, I’m not arguing that YA writers should NOT sound like teens. Not at all. Rather, I’m wondering aloud what the purpose of YA literature is for teens altogether. And if YA literature, like any form of literature, in fact seeks to illuminate otherwise internalized experiences, giving form and texture to that which would otherwise remain hidden, maybe it doesn’t need to sound exactly like every inarticulate teen. Because if it did, it wouldn’t accomplish it’s goal, which is to narrate all those difficult, gushy, mixed-up, confusing feelings and experiences that probably feel utterly un-narratable to most young people.

The other evening, I had the honor of guest teaching a class on the YA novel to a Teacher’s College seminar on Narrative Medicine and Secondary School Students. I had assigned Laurie Halsie Anderson’s Speak, a book with whose voice the students struggled. Many felt it sounded too much "like an adult" rather than "a teen." Until one of the students told us how, as a teacher, she really didn’t like the book when she had assigned it to her high school students, but was surprised to find her students loved it. We tried to dissect what this could be about – an adult who thinks the book sounds inauthentic, but a teen relating utterly to it. And then one of the other students explained it perfectly. "I can imagine," she said, "a teenager looking at this paragraph and saying, ‘yea, that’s it! that’s exactly what I was feeling!’ Maybe this kind of writing gives kids the words to say what they couldn’t otherwise." Interestingly, the paragraph she was referring to is all about ‘giving words’ to experiences (from p. 9):  

It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing your feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.

In a world where teens are still silenced, where their voices are not given the space to sing out, perhaps it is the responsibility of YA literature to provide (sorrow) words. And not in the sense of ventriloquism, but in that magical way that all literature can help you find that part of yourself you never knew you were searching for. The way that I can still open a book and blush, or have my heart race, wondering if the writer somehow knew my innermost experiences or thoughts. The way I can quite literally see myself in the bodies and lives of characters on a page (all the characters quoted above) – characters who are ostensibly nothing like me, but who are, really.

Maybe authenticity of (teen) voice doesn’t matter as much as just plain old authenticity – that ineffable ability of literature to connect with our lives. To give words. To be both a mirror and a place of aspiration and imagination.

What do you think?

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