Monday, April 30, 2012

So You Want to Read YA?: Guest Post by CK Kelly Martin

This week's guest post for our "So You Want to Read YA?" series comes from one of my favorite authors, CK Kelly Martin. 

C. K. Kelly Martin began writing her first novel in a flat in Dublin and finished it in a Toronto suburb. By then she was thoroughly hooked on young adult fiction and her fifth YA novel, Yesterday, will hit shelves on September 25th, while her first 'new adult' novel, Come See About Me, will be available as an ebook in late June. Her online home is www.ckkellymartin.com.  She's also on Twitter @CKKellyMartin.




When I started reading young adult books again, around 1999/2000, it’d been a long, long while since I’d digested any books for teenagers. Discovering the breadth of fantastic YA books on library and bookstore shelves felt sort of like finding buried treasure because, although the novels were not in fact buried and were widely available, it seemed very few folks outside of the teen demographic (unless they were YA writers or future YA writers) were seeking them out. Happily, that’s changed over the last decade or so and more and more adults are showing an interest in reading books about teen characters. My favourite YA reading material tends to lean towards weighty true-to-life contemporary offerings but I’ve tried to recommend a cross-section of books here, all stories that I believe will endure the test of time.





Life is Funny (E.R. Frank, 2000). If I had to recommend a single YA book it would be this one – the intersecting stories of eleven New York City high schools students of different genders, race and class. Writer E. R. Frank is also a social worker and her experience shows in spades. Each of the eleven characters has a completely distinct voice and Life is Funny is the most nakedly honest, perceptive book I’ve ever read about teenagers. 
 
Finnikin of the Rock (Melina Marchetta, 2008). Generally I’m not a huge fan of fantasy (I know, I know, it just doesn’t happen to be my thing) but I’d enjoyed Melina Marchetta’s contemporary books so much that I felt compelled to try this one out too. Several years earlier the royal family of Lumatere were murdered and their throne seized. Now young Finnikin must help a young novice named Evanjalin and others, in the hopes that a Lumatere heir might one day be restored to the throne and the land’s many exiles be returned to their home. Full of magic, bloody battles and tinged with romance too, Finnikin of the Rock is as smart as it is riveting. If you pick this book up you won’t want to put it down.

Broken Soup (Jenny Valentine, 2008). A warm, original, intelligent novel about loss, friendship, family, and memory. Main character Rowan has suffered the death of her older brother and her remaining family is falling apart in the aftermath, but there’s also a mystery to be solved. Who is the boy who hands her a negative in a shop one day and what will the developed photograph reveal? This contemporary story is conveyed with a timeless feel and features three dimensional characters that you'll admire and be sorry to say goodbye to.





Stolen: A Letter to My Captor (Lucy Christopher, 2009). When sixteen-year-old Gemma is snatched from an airport and smuggled to a remote part of Australia where she’s held captive by attractive, familiar looking Ty, the story doesn’t play out like you’d expect. It’s mesmerizing, often beautiful and extremely unsettling, a real journey of the mind. Like Gemma, I felt off-balance, fascinated and fearful throughout the whole ordeal. I also felt as though I’d never, ever read anything like this. 
 
Saints of Augustine (P. E. Ryan, 2007). Best friends Sam and Charlie are no longer on speaking terms but need each other now more than ever. After the death of Charlie’s mom, his father is in free-fall – drinking too much and generally dropping out of life. Charlie himself has developed a drug problem and owes his dealer money. Meanwhile Sam (who is not yet out) is falling for a boy named Justin while having to endure homophobic remarks from his mother’s tool of a boyfriend. It’s a shame that we still don’t get to read nearly as much about boys’ friendships as we do about girls’ ones, but this is some excellent writing on the subject. The story is told from both boys’ points of views and is pointedly truthful and organic in feel rather than the melodrama it easily could’ve been reduced to in someone else’s hands. 
 
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan, 2009). I adored each of the books in Carrie Ryan’s zombie series but this first one perhaps the most. The Sisterhood. The Guardians. The Unconsecrated. And the creepy medieval-like village where the action begins. I get the shivers just thinking about it all. Our world feels so long gone in The Forest of Hands and Teeth that it’s almost like glimpsing a parallel world’s past – if that world had been overrun with zombies, that is. Would it be weird of me to call a bunch of zombie books delightful? Because that’s how I felt about Carrie Ryan’s series.



48 Shades of Brown (Nick Earls, 2004). There’s a scene involving an irate goose that made me laugh out loud while reading 48 Shades of Brown, a slice-of-life, funny but realistic novel about Aussie teenager Dan going to stay with his young aunt and her cute roommate while his parents spend the year in Geneva. Pure charming! I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve actually bought it twice now. 
 
Tyrell and Bronxwood (Coe Booth, 2007 and 2011). Back in 08 I wrote a review of Tyrell on Amazon under the heading “Tyrell's one of the best YA novels I've ever read.” The review simply says, “I was utterly convinced by Tyrell's character and situation” and I felt exactly the same way after reading the sequel, Bronxwood. When we first meet Tyrell he’s awash in problems that many people with more years and life skills under their belts wouldn’t be able to handle. His dad’s in jail, his mom’s on drugs and he’s living in a homeless shelter with the little brother he tries to look out for. But Tyrell never gives up. Instead he fights like hell to stay afloat and whatever he does, however brave or screwed up he is at the time, and wherever his relationships with various girls takes him, it all feels on hundred percent genuine. 
 
Jumpstart the World (Catherine Ryan Hyde, 2010). Sixteen-year-old Elle’s unhappy family life has resulted in her living in her own New York apartment, down the hall from a couple named Molly and Frank. As a group of diverse kids from school befriend Elle, she’s also drawn into a close friendship with her next door neighbours. The thing is, she feels more than friendship for Frank and when Elle learns Frank’s transgender she’s shaken to the core. Catherine Ryan Hyde seems to specialize in writing caring but confused and wounded three-dimensional characters. She has such talent for finding genuine (not forced) hope in tough situations that I’ll gladly read anything she writes.


 

Tomorrow When the War Began (John Marsden, 1993). Last year I finished off the entire seven-book Tomorrow series and although this first book was released almost twenty years ago, it feels both completely fresh and like an instant classic. The Tomorrow novels centre on a group of teenagers who are camping away from home in the bush when Australia is invaded by a foreign army. Main character Ellie and her friends are left to survive and battle the invaders on their own. The story’s not told in a way that glorifies war, nor does it portray the young characters as action heroes, but they are fighters – courageous, intelligent and yet far from invincible. The emotional veracity of each of the books makes it clear that even if there’s a victory at the end of book seven and the invaders are forced to abandon Australia, this band of young people will never be the same – and some of them won’t survive at all. 
 
Target (Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, 2003) Six-foot-three sixteen-year-old Grady West starts eleventh grade at a new school after being raped by two strangers. This is the unflinching story of the heavy emotional toll the attack takes on Grady and his slow steps towards healing. I greatly admire Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson’s sensitive but truthful handling of this material (a story you rarely see told). 
 
Let’s Get Lost (Sarah Manning, 2006). Manning’s books have such a nice vibe but this is my favourite so far. Mean girl Isabelle isn’t as she appears. There are hurtful secrets she’s covering over with her bad behaviour – some involving her mother’s death. Smith, a college student she picks up in a club and lies to about her age, seems to guess there’s more going on beneath the surface. All the lies and pain are bound to come to a head but, for me, each step of the journey was so compelling that I was in no hurry to reach the destination. Well, except that naturally I wanted to see what happened between Isabelle and the charismatic Smith!

**

CK Kelly Martin is the acclaimed author of I Know It's Over (2008), One Lonely Degree (2009), The Lighter Side of Life and Death (2010), My Beating Teenage Heart (2011), and the forthcoming Yesterday (September 2012). She's also taking a stab this summer at e-publishing her novel aimed at the "new adult"/20-somethings market, titled Come See About Me.




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Friday, April 27, 2012

Life and Reading in High School: Jen

Well, I guess I have to admit this. I was a huge goody-goody in high school. The honors-and-AP-classes taking, do practically every activity in order to pad my college applications, love learning type. But honestly, I write for a book blog, so who didn't suspect that just a little bit? But even though I was so busy, I really loved all of the activities that I did do. I swam for the high school swim team all four years, and even though I definitely wasn't the best of the bunch (I swam on a year round team but still struggled to qualify for the end of the year championship meets), I loved every minute of it. Swimming allowed me, a lowly freshman, to enter high school and instantly have a dozen senior 'friends' watching out for me. I have fond memories of Friday afternoon swim meets followed by group pizza outings, after which we would all troop over to the high school football game to freeze in the stands with our still-wet hair.

I wrote sporadically for the school newspaper, but I mainly loved being part of the yearbook staff, and was the Assistant Editor in Chief my senior year. (Fun fact: my inscribed copy of our senior yearbook had the lovely typo of 'Assistant Editor-in-Cheif'). One of my best friends and I used one of our elective periods to do 'Independent Yearbook Study,' aka "We spend an entire period goofing off, drawing on the Yearbook Room walls (we were allowed to do this, as each year's staff repainted), and watching the movie version of Anne of Green Gables to swoon over Gilbert Blythe." You can slightly see our lovely wall messages in this picture.


Starting sophomore year, I got pretty active in the music/theater side of things, too, and was involved with a few different chorus groups and the school musical for the last three years of high school. Even though I never got a starring role, I was quite proud of my featured vocalist role in Oliver! as the illustrious Strawberry Vendor. Here I am during rehearsal of Barnum, performed my sophomore year.

Even though I'm not very religious now, a huge part of my life in high school was our church Youth Ministry group, and I loved spending a week each summer volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. A huge group of us traveled to a construction site a few hours away, we camped out in a church basement and basically built a house--foundation, beam, insulation, painting and all. I am NOT very handy (hell, I don't have common sense half the time--there's a reason I'm blonde, and I often demonstrated this during high school), and these trips really increased my confidence when it came to basic household skills. Below are two of my best friends and I during a rare moment of Habitat downtime.

So I basically bounced between a bunch of groups. I was never the most popular girl in school (by far), but I knew lots of people. And my core group of best friends stayed fairly constant. We dressed up as devils for the senior year Halloween Dance, were all inducted into the National Honor Society together (see below),
and did that "we live in a small town so what is there to do on Friday night? Oh yeah, let's go to the ice cream stand that our other friend works at and hang out there all night!" Yep, we ate ice cream a lot. The benefits of growing up in New England.

Perhaps the funniest story about my friends is the fact that my best friend and I talked so much and so often that we somehow thought we had each told each other about our senior prom dress.

Needless to say, we did not.

When it comes to reading, I had not yet ventured into the YA territory that now occupies so much of my shelf space. Although when I was in high school, the YA market had not really been developed yet, not as it is today. I spent most of my reading time on bestsellers and classics. I think I somehow thought that since I was in high school, I should be reading 'upwards.' I read a lot of the 'literary fiction' that spent its time on the bestseller lists and read other works by the authors that we read in English classes. This is definitely not to say that I didn't enjoy what I was reading, of course. I spent my time with Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, visited Manderley with Rebecca, and teared up for poor Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.

It's strange to look back and realize how little I actually read back then, compared to my consumption now. It's almost as if I went through a lull in high school, caught between my obsessive love of Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitters' Club in elementary school (along with The Fabulous Five, Boxcar Children, and Sleepover Friends, of course) and my fascination with chick lit in college. Which then led of course, to the mainly YA and middle grade reader that I am now. Perhaps I thought I was too busy to read with the furor that I do now. But I definitely still read back then; it was just that the books were more substantial, and took a bit longer to complete. And it's amazing what I thought "busy" was then, as opposed to what it is now, where I'm truly learning the definition of the word. I even remember feeling so crazed with schoolwork my senior year that I may or may not have employed the Cliff Notes study method for such fine works as Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary.

But you didn't hear that from me.









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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Life & Reading in High School: Kimberly

Unlike Kelly, who must be an incredibly fortunate person (!), I hated high school. I wasn't picked on or otherwise treated horrendously by teachers or classmates, but my self-esteem was in the gutter and life was just so, so awkward. I was painfully shy and didn't know how to grow up in the ways that I saw my peers doing: dating, addressing adults with confidence, and even just simply knowing how to look and act put together. (Your tiny violin is playing for me right now, I'm sure.)

Considering all this, it's not surprising that fantasy was my go-to genre in high school, and it remains that way now. I wanted to read about anything but what I was experiencing: constant embarrassment, extremely low self-confidence, and just a feeling of not knowing anything useful about life. Above all, I wanted to read about young women who had power or somehow gained power during the story, since I felt so completely powerless in my own life. I read about girls who could do magic, who became warriors or knights, who were smarter or prettier than everyone else and used it to get what they wanted. Even girls who began the story trapped in some way went through some sort of transformation where they gained both outer and inner power. I still feel that the fantasy genre provides this in spades, and it's still something I need.

A few friends of mine and I went to the Texas Renaissance Festival at least three years running. This photo may actually be from middle school. We made our own dresses, which got better each year. I must have had a lot of help, because I was not a good seamstress then and I am not one now.

Induction into the French National Honor Society (I'm the one without the whited-out face, in case you were wondering). The girl in the red is still one of my very good friends. I went to her wedding and the curly-haired friend's wedding a couple years ago (separate weddings...). French was by far my favorite subject in high school - I was reasonably good at it, my friends were in the class with me, and the teacher was wonderful. She would let us eat lunch in her classroom AND nap in there using her huge blankets before school started. She also listened to me gripe about my parents, which endeared her even more to me. After we took the French AP test, she held a dinner at her home, where we built a huge bonfire and threw all of our old French papers (and papers from other classes) onto it to watch them burn. There are so many awesome things about her. She was at my friend in the red shirt's wedding and I still keep in touch with her on Facebook. She's one of my good memories.

When I was 16, my French teacher took her classes on a Spring Break trip to Paris. This is me in the airport waiting to board the plane. I think everything in this photo is a sign of the times: the sweater, the zig zag part, and the portable CD player.

We had dinner in the Eiffel Tower. It was pretty terrific.

My friend and I in Paris. This is by far the best photo of me from high school, possibly because you can't see what I tried to do with my hair. I have very good memories of this particular friend, who is still one of the genuinely nicest people I know. She was the only person I really knew on the trip, and although she quickly made friends with everyone else, something I wasn't really capable of doing, she always made sure to include me. Another really great memory of her involves a little bit of misbehavior that she encouraged in me. If you know anything about standardized testing in Texas, you know it's a mess. I was in high school just as they were transitioning to a new test, but this test didn't actually count for my grade level. Instead, we were the guinea pigs, and our scores wouldn't go on our records, but they would help the test-makers make a better test (supposedly). She and I decided this was bogus, so we skipped one of the subject tests (science or social studies) and saw X-Men 2 instead with a couple of other people. I should have done things like that more often.
The summer before my senior year, I went on a trip with my dad and my sister out West. We visited Zion and the Grand Canyon, among other places. This is me riding an ATV for the very first time at the Grand Canyon. I was just a year older than the minimum age required to drive the vehicle on my own, so the instructor made me do a couple laps to prove I could handle it. My own memory tells me that he was very impressed with my ability. This was the best part of the trip; it made me feel like a badass, and we came back covered in dirt that didn't seem to ever go away.

This is me riding a horse in Zion National Park. Also a very fun time. I felt surprisingly comfortable on the horse, even though I hadn't been one on very much previously. The flatiron was my friend on this day.

Looking back on all this about ten years later, I realize I shouldn't have been so hard on myself. Going through these old photos has made me understand that I was not nearly as hideous as I thought I was, nor was I as friendless or alone. That doesn't change the fact that I felt that way, though, and the books I read during that time still resonate. Most of my favorites today came from this period in my life.


Cynthia Voigt's Kingdom series was a huge influence on my reading life. I actually read the second book, On Fortune's Wheel, first, and I instantly fell in love. There's no magic, but there is a young girl in a made-up land who escapes from a life where she feels trapped to explore the world. I loved how atmospheric Voigt's writing seemed to me at the time, and I especially loved the surprising but deeply satisfying ending. Once I learned that there were others in the series, I quickly read them too. The series is a bit different from most written today in that the books are only loosely connected to each other. Usually, the "sequel" takes place several generations later and previous protagonists are only mentioned briefly. With their (mostly) Vermeer covers, they all seemed intensely romantic to me. I re-read On Fortune's Wheel every once in a while and still love it. 


As a younger teen, I also ate up all of Donna Jo Napoli's fairy tale re-tellings. Zel in particular was a favorite, but I also enjoyed Sirena and Spinners. Aside from fantasy, I loved historical fiction, and Ann Rinaldi was my go-to author there. I've already bored you to tears with my fixation on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, so I won't do anything other than mention it here. Biting the Sun also bears mentioning as an example of a novel featuring a young woman who has both incredible power but who still felt very powerless - and what she does to fix it.


I will be forever grateful to my red-shirted friend for introducing me to Tamora Pierce. While my friend loved the Song of the Lioness books most, I was more drawn to the Immortals series. That preference is unusual, since I disliked animals and the books are about a girl who can speak to and influence animals. I think I liked them more simply because the girl had brown hair and that just made it easier for me to see myself in her. I also loved the romance, which was a bit spicier than anything I had read previously. I think I read both Immortals and the Kingdom books first in middle school, but I kept coming back to them throughout high school.


That same friend introduced me to Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series in high school. These books were a revelation when I first read them. They were sexy and violent in a strange kind of way, which very much appealed to me. They seemed so fresh to me at the time, like I hadn't read anything like it before. The magic system was completely unique and fairly complex, and the characters were so fascinating - equally light and dark, good and bad.


I ate up the mass market fantasy as a teen, something I've gotten away from a bit as an adult. Favorites included Anne McCaffrey, George R. R. Martin, J. V. Jones, Juliet Marillier, Jennifer Fallon, Holly Lisle, James Clemens, Sara Douglass, Melanie Rawn, and Elizabeth Haydon. And then there was Marion Zimmer Bradley: everything except Darkover, which I never could get into. I never did read Goodkind, Jordan, Brooks, or Eddings. One of my favorite things to do was to visit the used book store and pick out a full trilogy (or quartet or quintet...) of books and dive in when I got home. The quality was erratic but I found some gems that way.


Reading for English class was always a chore, since the books I really wanted to read usually weren't in the curriculum. That changed slightly my senior year when the teacher gave us a list of books to choose from. You wouldn't find any of the above titles on the list, of course, but I read The Handmaid's Tale and The Color Purple that year, and I loved them both.

Like Kelly, I was always writing as a teen.  I was good at English and spent a few years on Yearbook staff, which actually turned out to be a huge mistake, since it necessitated me talking to people, something I avoided at all costs. I wrote much more just for myself. I wrote what I liked to read and most of it was pretty derivative, but I kept it all and go through it every now and then when I want to torture myself. I never shared it with anyone, a habit I keep. I'm trying to change that, but it's hard!




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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life & Reading in High School: Kelly

I may be in the minority, but I liked high school. I went to a huge school -- we're talking my graduating class had over 1,000 kids -- and because of that, there were very few cliques or other social issues that other people seem to experience. We were just too damn big!

I had very few problems in high school, though the first semester of my freshman year was very trying. The first week of school, I broke three bones in my ankle and ended up in a cast that required the use of crutches for the first couple of weeks. Imagine a school with as many students as mine had and trying to navigate the hallways on crutches. Not easy! But don't worry. I didn't let a broken ankle keep me from attending my first high school homecoming dance. This is a post-dance picture, and I'm posing with Buzz, the fattest cat I ever owned. Yep, my kitchen had carpet.


My best friend for a good chunk of high school was Melissa. She was a foul-mouthed, terrible influence and I loved every second of it. This picture was right before we spent the day at Milwaukee Summerfest and did something kind of mean to a group of obnoxious drunk kids sitting next to us. No I will not tell you what it was we did, but I will tell you we saw Lifehouse and 3 Doors Down (that was my first concert). 


Here's a confession I've never told anyone, though: I once cheated on a quiz (and this was the only time I ever cheated on anything in school). And I have Melissa to thank for it. We took the same class one hour apart, and once in a while, the teacher would spring a pop quiz on us. But rather than grade those quizzes himself, he'd have students grade them. When we figured this out, she wrote down the answers to the quiz and slipped them to me in the hallway. I then copied them the next hour. I didn't NEED them and didn't NEED to cheat. We did it simply because we could. Okay, second confession: that same teacher kicked me out of class once for being a snark. Then weeks later when I was teetering on the edge of two different grades, he gave me the higher one because he liked my attitude. It later turned out the year I had him, he was having sex with another student and was charged for it my senior year.

I don't think I fit into any particular "group" in school. I floated among a lot of different social groups. I was heavily involved in my school's newspaper, the school band my freshman and sophomore year (first playing flute, then playing tenor sax which was nearly as big as my 5'1 self!), and I played badminton. Yes, badminton.



In Illinois, where I went to school, badminton was an interscholastic sport, not just a backyard activity. Our season lasted for the bulk of the second semester of school. I played both singles and doubles, though I specialized in doubles. My partner Ashleigh and I even took home a medal our junior year for placing second in one of the big matches (that's the picture in black and white). We made it to semi-finals for state that year, too.

The first and second picture showcase my braces, too. Most of junior high and much of high school for me involved almost non-stop orthodontic trips. I can say with authority that anyone who only had braces got out of their teen years easily. This was the worst physical pain I've ever experienced (but let me tell you how grateful I am for it now).

I never worried about fitting into a certain style, though I look back at some of the things I wore or did and wonder what I was thinking.





I used to carry a lunchbox instead of a purse, as you can see in the top photo. The middle photo was from one of my favorite high school activities: going to White Sox baseball games. Melissa's mom worked for them, and she always hooked us up with fancy pants tickets and free food. The catch was we'd end up sitting in the field parking lot for 4 or 5 hours before game time. The last photo doesn't even make sense to me. I think it was dress weird day. I think the bikini top over a striped shirt with my mother's work vest qualified as weird.


My musical tastes ranged from Reel Big Fish to Dave Matthews and Blink 182 my freshman and sophomore years, and then I moved onto Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, and a slew of male acoustic singers. Being that I lived fairly close to Chicago, when I was a junior and senior, I was able to get out more and go to live shows. I had the chance to see Tori Amos, Howie Day, Ari Hest, Lenny Kravitz, Pink, and, as pictured above, Matt Nathanson -- I think I saw him 7 or 8 times in high school. Loved (and still love) his music, but the banter is where it's at.

Junior year I took my first job, working at a Hallmark store. It was a good experience, though it wasn't ideal. When I had the chance to apply for a page job at the local library, I took it and interviewed. But, I didn't get the job. I was bummed about losing out on the opportunity since it would have been great. That was in November. A couple of months later, I got a phone call out of the blue from the library offering me a page job because the person they'd originally hired wasn't working out. I spent the second half a junior year through August after I graduated working my way from page to tech services. I loved it.


Here's my mom and I on my graduation day! I was so tired because we'd had practice in the morning and I just wanted it over. Random fact: I didn't go to prom. I was going to go with my best guy friend, but after we crunched the numbers, we decided we'd instead have his dad take us to a White Sox game and treat us to tons of hot chocolate and baseball with a fireworks show after. I do not regret a thing, despite what all of my co-workers said (all were convinced I would be sad about this down the road, and here I am, almost 10 years later, and I'm still not regretting it).

When it came to the whole life-after-high-school thing, let me tell you how my college selection stress went. I spent the night at a college in Iowa that sounded cool because it didn't have a traditional schedule (you did one class at a time, instead of 3 or 4 over a semester). That night, I met a lot of fun people and broke a lot of rules. I put in an application when I got home, got accepted, and decided that was good enough. I could have probably gotten into a lot of schools (if I may brag, I was ranked 7th out of over 1,000 kids academically) but really, I was lazy. And I liked my sanity. It ended up being a good school for me socially, even if it didn't challenge me a whole lot academically.

The other thing I spent a lot of time doing in high school was reading and writing. I worked on the school's newspaper and wrote not only news and feature stories, but I wrote a lot of book reviews. I also worked for a forum on AOL called I Was a Teenage Writer. I can't explain how much this community influenced me not only then but continues to influence me now. Many of the people I met through writing there are people I still talk to now. We all grew up with each other, and we continue growing with one another. It's bizarre and comforting at the same time. Without doubt, it was through IWTW I developed my passion for talking about reading! A bunch of us not only talked on the forum about books, but we kept LiveJournals and wrote about the books we were reading (yessss, I was one of those kids who had a blog back in 2001 and STILL goes back and reads through it and cringes once in a while -- the internet never forgets!). Talking books has been in my blood for a long time. Which brings me to the real point of these posts -- what I was reading in high school.


I went through a huge Stephen King phase. But of all the King I read, I remember loving Rose Madder and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon pretty hard. I haven't read King since high school, but I've always harbored the interest in rereading these two titles since they stick out to me so much from that period of my life.



Two of my favorite books in high school were Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate and Kamala Markandayas Nectar in a Sieve. I read both on my own for fun, not for a class. I loved the cultural influences of both titles. I think Esquivel's novel might have been my first real experience with magical realism, a genre I really like.

Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World was the first "big" book I read. It's a long story that I remember as little more than a long discourse on philosophy and philosophers. I hated every second of reading it (again, one I read of my own free will for fun) but I refused to give it up because it was such an investment.




I was a bit of an Oprah reader! This was before her reading club went crazy. I remember picking up and falling in love with Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone and I believe I read this sucker three or four times. Dolores was a trouper throughout all of the crap coming through her life, and I remember really liking her, despite her not always being the most likable of characters.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was a book I picked up only after devouring plenty of her poetry. And as much as people loved this book, I simply liked it. I much preferred Plath as a poet as opposed to a novelist.  

If I had to pick one favorite from high school, it would be Jane Mendelsohn's Innocence. I haven't read it since and I keep forgetting to bring it back from my mom's house whenever I'm there because I think it'll still have the power it did. This is a story about a teenage girl in New York City feeling like an outsider in the social world. It's told through a less conventional narrative style, with broken snippets and snatches of story (rather than more fluid prose). I remember it being pretty dark and I remember this being my first real experience with magical realism. It's funny now looking back at high school reading and seeing the themes that still resonate with me as an adult.



I mentioned IWTW playing a huge role in my reading in high school, and I remember specifically picking up Sapphire's Push on a recommendation from more than one person I worked with there. I fell in love with this story: it was heart-wrenching and painful to read. I would make the statement it may have been the first contemporary, dark book I read. Even though it was marketed as an adult novel, it read so much like a teen novel.

Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts was also one of those reads I had in high school that was marketed for the adult audience, even though it reads like a teen novel. This still remains one of my favorite stories, and I will always see a bit of myself in Jessica Darling. Have you ever read a series where the characters are the exact same age and in very similar spots in life as yourself? That was this series for me. Jessica's 16 when this book starts, and I read it right after I turned 16. I related to her on so many levels, even through to her finishing college and navigating the working world in Perfect Fifths.

When I started high school, and even when I graduated, the YA market was pretty tiny. But there was this little book by Laurie Halse Anderson called Speak. You bet I read it when it came out and you bet I still remember how powerful it is.

I won't lie: I was one of those kids who read every single book assigned in high school. I fell in love with the traditional classics and read a ton of them on my own. But rather than list all of those, I thought I'd talk about the one book -- the only book -- I never finished reading in school.


I read every other Dickens novel I was assigned in high school, but Great Expectations was not worth it for me. I didn't even bother watching the movie, either. I hated this book and wanted nothing to do with reading it. Fortunately, I did a good job of taking notes in class when we talked about it and despite not reading this, I managed to ace the test.


Even though I was a huge reader in high school, I bet something that'll surprise people is I was also a mega math geek. More specifically, I was a statistics whiz. When I was going through my yearbooks trying to find a photo to scan for this post, a pile of my stats notes fell out. I scanned one of the pages because now, 10 years since taking those notes, I have absolutely, positively no idea what they mean. And as much as they claim we'll use this stuff in our real life, I can't remember the last time I needed to make any of those charts or work out any of those complicated formulas.

At least reading and the passion for books never goes away that easily!




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