le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Monday, August 03, 2009

reading YA nonstop

I have decided to start a notebook, keeping track of the books I read. This will include re-reads. I started the notebook around 29 July. It is now the morning of 3 August, and i just added the 11th title.

I may have a problem, a sort of addiction, to reading. But then again, other than a slight, very slight, dizziness, reading all the time causes me no problems, so I don't worry about it.

Most recently I read Rachel Cohn's Gingerbread, which proved to me that I still don't like YA novels about pretty teenage girls with money (even screwed up girls like Cyd Charisse, though the presence of the doll Gingerbread was a great touch); K.L. Going's King of the Screwups, which challenged me again - it was difficult to NOT feel sympathy for Liam, the narrator, and his angst over his nasty father and his useless mother; but he's 1) beautiful [model-gorgeous] 2) wealthy and 3) a large part of his conflict in the book is his attempt to become unpopular, which fails miserably.

I have a very hard time feeling sorry for beautiful, wealthy teenagers, even when they have shitty families. Cyd Charisse has a screwed-up family, but is not unloved; her step-dad (the only dad she's ever known) clearly loves her and connects with her; her mother is more difficult, but tries to do the right thing. Her bio-dad is a mess, but not in a bad way. Cyd Charisse has her pick of attractive boys/men, money to burn (literally - she stuffs a $50 down the garbage disposal) and a weirdly charming personality. From my standpoint as an ever-so-elderly 30-year-old, Cyd Charisse just seemed like a brat. I wonder if there are some YA books that simply don't work on non-YA readers. ......

Liam, in Going's novel, was a bit trickier. He's definitely less of a brat that Cyd Charisse; because we can see inside his head (he's narrator), we can see that the actions and remarks that seem callous and arrogant are actually just his thoughts coming out all wrong as a result of his anxiety over doing something wrong. But it made me grind my teeth that Liam's talent is for fashion and modeling - it's hard for me to not see that as frivolous. And the popularity that Liam is trying to slough off comes almost entirely from his appearance: he's drop-dead gorgeous, and he dresses extremely well. Girls, and guys, are going ga-ga to welcome him to the new school. It is very hard to feel sorry for someone who has instant entree to every social group he finds himself in.

Where Going really pleased me is with the cast of middle-aged glam rockers whom Liam ends up living with. His uncle - gay Aunt Pete - who lives in a trailer in a mobile-home park, and Pete's bandmates: flaming Eddie who runs a clothing store, Dino the cop and Orlando, the English teacher (in fact, Liam's english teacher) - all continue to practice and play in their glam band as they've done for decades. This is a great, queer batch of characters whose queerness matters but not as a stumbling block.

And this morning I finished MT Anderson's Burger Wuss, which for some reason I've avoided until now. I love Anderson, but this is not his best work, though it has its moments. Anthony, poor old narrator Anthony, is a weird, nerdy kid (a contortionist!?) trying to get revenge on a slick jerk for "stealing" ANthony's girlfriend of three months, Diana. Anthony's obsessiveness over Diana, coupled with his total unawareness of his obsessiveness, and its creepiness, makes him a very unsettling character.
The book reminded me a lot of a novel I read as a kid, called something like Burger Heaven - I think (main character: a guy named Kenny who works at a burger place, ends up robbing it, it all goes south from there. it's late 70s or early 80s, I think).

The absolute best - BEST - part of the book is Anderson's inclusion of a gang of grammatically-correct graffiti kids. They're teenagers who go around correctly the grammar of other graffiti and signs around town. There's a great moment, when the group finds a graffiti that says GUY'S SUCK, and the grammar kids fall all over each other laughing "like it takes the genitive!" Literally: two of the kids end up rolling around on the ground laughing.

Somehow, a band of grammar graffiti-bandits appeals enormously to me.
Really, I think maybe Anderson should have scrapped the burger wuss angle (though it does have, in Shunt, a nice anarchist, anti-capitalist agitator), and instead written a novel about the life and times of the Correct Grammar Gang.

I now need to set aside my YA readings and ramblings, and get down to business of reading some children's/YA historical fiction - particularly some older historical fiction - so I can finalize my fall syllabus. Historical fiction has never been my specialty, so I'm struggling a little. The Newbery Award has often gone to historical fiction, but all of it raises my hackles in one way or another (The Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, The Slave Dancer, the older stuff like Rifles for Watie), and I refuse to include it. I'm already planning either caddie woodlawn or a little house book, to demonstrate the "ills" of some kinds of historical fiction. I don't need another demonstration of this.

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