Monday, August 18, 2008

Young Adult Novels

I've was going through YA novels lately at a pretty past clip--about one book a day. Much too quickly to write about them as I went along, so here are a few short hits:

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Peterson
Oh, I loved this book. It could have so easily turned into a book of maxims about being anti-social and not loving your family, but it didn't--Louise's problems are always taken seriously and we aren't persuaded to moralize over her. Obviously, some readers find this a bit disturbing. Really, I'm not sure it's good for kids--we're such moralists when we're young--but at 29 I think it's one of the best books I've read for a long time.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Ellen's favorite YA book. I've heard the plot so many times (and Ellen's alternative endings) that there were no real surprises. One might think that a story of a young Jewish girl who falls in love with a Nazi would not be on the right side of history. However, the issues of fascism, racism, and anti-semitism are much more complex in the novel. Of course, Greene herself was accused of anti-semitism. Although Patty's parents are awful, they are not caricatures of awful Jews--her grandparents are wonderful, caring people who are Jews too. You're persuaded to really think
about hatred and prejudice, something we aren't really used to doing.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg How is it I only read this now? I was always talking about running away as a child.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Another runaway. Only this one skins animals, makes stew, and builds her house out of ice. The end is heartbreaking

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Food-obsessed little children and a stupid love story tacked onto it. A favorite of
East Village Inky's Ayun Halliday.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I bought this for my cousin Tess several years ago, but only read it now. I'm glad I got it for her, but I hope she doesn't think that I support slavery.

Judy Blume:
Forever, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Then Again Maybe I Won't, Deenie
Compared to most of the books above, Judy Blume's stories are kind of boring. Just dumb Jersey kids doing normal, dumb kid stuff. But, they are actually dealing with pretty deep issues--disability, sexuality, class, family relations, the legacy of the Holocaust. No wonder kids love Blume. She takes them seriously, whether they're waiting for their periods, fighting with their friends, or trying to figure out how the world works.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

I started reading this at the beginning of August, as a way to escape my real life. Obviously, that's part of why we read in general, but in this case, my desire was to enter the artistic, academic, passionate, disturbing relationship of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. I could not finish the book, exactly for the reason that I picked it up in the first place.

I am not a knee-jerk anti-Hughes feminist, although there were obviously better-behaved husbands in the world. I am not even terribly upset by his mythmaking around his wife, because I get it--he wanted Plath to be remembered as an artist, not someone who struggled with being a woman and an artist. Plath may have wanted to be remembered that way too. Expecting an ex-husband (or partner or child or parent) to remember a person as s/he actually was is, perhaps, asking too much. So if Hughes remembers Plath as a flighty, artistic bird, a candle that burnt bright but not long, I know that he is being condescending, sexist, etc., but I can't hate him for that. I only pity him.

The poetry itself is good, but so saturated in Plath, that I wanted to constantly run to her diaries or Ariel to compare. Feminist Americans will never be able to appreciate Hughes on his own--he is overwhelmed by the shadow of his ex-wife.

Jane Sexes It Up

I have to write another post about this book for a book club and am feeling very resentful of it. There are a myriad of reasons for this, that I won't go into on this semi-anonymous forum, but if this post is especially sketchy, you will know that it is because I am working on something more professional, less personal about the same damn book.

First off, this book was published about ten years ago and feels incredibly dated. Remember when radical feminists defended Bridget Jones' Diary? Yeah, it was before we had to hear about how "fat" Renee Zellweger for for the movie role. And before Carrie married Big (sorry for the spoiler, but seriously? If you cared, you knew). It was a golden era before reality shows co-opted bisexuality and teenagers weren't getting their nether-regions plucked by professionals. When being aggressively sexy, even to the point of being paid for it, seemed transgressive. Now, frankly, I'm tired of it. Is it our pornified culture? My own (further) experience with sexual exploitation? Have I had too many sex workers assume that I'm repressed because I have a "straight" job? Yeah, pretty much. But frankly, even that bores me. If I can be a little cranky about third wave feminism for awhile (this is not common): ladies, are we planning on DOING anything? Or are we going to stay in our cocoon of theory and our own experience? Will we reach out to people with different experiences or just "be aware" of them?

That said, the intro chapter was extremely difficult for me, because it hit very close to home. I don't want to read on because I feel like I'm confronted by my radical (naive) 20 year old self. The one who didn't see the problem with being independent and being in love, who was unabashedly sexual (in public), who lived--and thrived--in contradictions. I am too tired for that anymore.