Discussion: What counts as “mature” content?

Today’s discussion was sparked by a recent piece in Publisher’s Weekly, “Middle Grade Books Take on Mature Topics.” It’s a pretty good piece, describing this trend, its history, and its struggles. But the idea of “mature topics” gave me a pause, especially in this description:

Though the YA category continues to explore darker and more difficult topics, books for upper-middle-grade readers are increasingly tackling subjects once considered almost exclusively the province of books for teenagers: sexual awakening, sexual identity, mental illness, suicide, eating disorders, terrorism, and war and its collateral damage.

It’s true that these topics have been pretty regularly explored in (and, in some cases, defining) YA. But, does that mean they are necessarily “mature topics”?

For one thing, what makes a topic “mature”? It’s probably something that adults are concerned with, but many parents want to shield from their children. Explicit sex and violence in movies makes sense in this way. But topics like eating disorders and other mental disorders? The existence of gay and trans kids? These topics don’t just appear out of nowhere when one enters high school. They aren’t specific to age.

Most LGBTQ adults and older teens will say they knew or had inklings that they were gay and/or trans when they were younger, but may not have had the vocabulary to understand what they were experiencing. There are also many cases of mental illnesses beginning in childhood. These kids do exist, and they’re likely looking for more perspective, reassurance, and more information. And that’s exactly what these kinds of books provide, and they’re shelved in an accessible place for those kids.

And while it may be more high schoolers doing drugs or smoking or drinking or having sex, middle schoolers, middle schoolers and even younger kids aren’t completely in the dark about these things. They might observe these kind of things from their parents or older siblings. They’ll hear rumors about what peers are doing and may feel pressure to do the same. They hear about violence on TV. And they’re all taught about AIDS and warned away from drugs, alcohol, and sex at school (though that last one may not occur in middle school like it did for me). Even if they aren’t participating, the majority of kids don’t live in the candy-coated world we wish they did. As the article points out, however, it has to be written in a way that’s accessible and understandble to that age range.

What do you think of when you hear “mature content”? What is and what isn’t acceptable to be marketed to younger readers? Is anything really off limits?

Review: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Middle Grade Reads

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Published: May 17, 2016 by Simon & Schuster

some kind of happinessTHINGS FINLEY HART DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT

• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real–and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.

With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination.

December of last year, I found that blurb on Goodreads while looking through upcoming middle grade titles and I knew I needed to preorder this book. I’ve been dealing with discovering and tackling my own mental health over the past two years especially, and I found myself trying to capture that state of unease in my own writing. Also, the fact that Claire Legrand herself has had depression and anxiety since a young age (read her story here) suggested insight that might not be present from the outside. And I was not disappointed.

Continue reading “Review: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand”

Currently Reading and Updates: 5/30/16

Currently Reading

The Books

For a bit of a chance of pace, I’m alternating between two things for a moment, and neither are novels:

  • orwell essays.jpgGeorge Orwell’s A Collection of Essays, which I’ve barely started but I’m already regretting not reading it earlier. The first essay is a rather lengthly recollection of his boarding school days, aka, plenty of discussion about educational policy, especially when it mixes with the political! I’m really excited to continue with it; he’s very engaging and sometimes wryly funny.
  • Oscar Wilde plays, specifically Lady Windermere’s FanAn Ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance, and Salome (I’ve already read The Importance of Being Earnest): I love the witty dialogue and the way Wilde slips in social commentary, though that does mean it must be read very closely! I should be finishing Lady Windermere’s Fan very soon. I definitely recommend Wilde if you’re looking to get into plays, especially older ones.

Meanwhile, I’ll be posting my review of Some Kind of Happiness this week, plus some other bookish stuff!

ALSO A REALLY COOL THING: I won Adam Silvera’s Twitter giveaway, which means I’m apparently getting signed and personalized copies of the paperback More Happy Than Not (which I LOVED, but read on Kindle so I don’t have a physical copy) and an ARC of his January release, History Is All You Left Me, which I’m eagerly anticipating! I still can’t quite believe it. That, in combination with my ever-present feeling that I may have done something wrong (even though I checked the address I sent in and everything), means that I don’t think I’ll quite accept my luck until it arrives on my doorstep.

Writing

I’m back writing! Well, kind of. I’ve been in a strange situation where I don’t quite have a full draft because I didn’t write certain scenes and finish it off because I suddenly came up with a new plot to craft the story–which is largely character-driven–around. So I started reading through and taking notes on what I had done–a process I’m going to blog about–to prepare for revising, but I realized I quite liked it. So instead, I’ve just come up with some more subtle ways to liven up the plot while still exploring what’s going on in the characters’ minds, and I’m going to write that and see where I end up.

This is a really tricky one, but after reareading a good portion of it, I feel so much better about it than before! The story has a lot of personal investment from me in it, which is why I keep returning to it. But that also means I need to be in a certain mode to write about it, as some of it is difficult for me to write.

The Rest

I’ve been watching the 1996 BBC Pride and Prejudice serial (aka the Colin Firth one). It doesn’t have the highest production values, but it is a pretty close adaption so far, and the characters really stand out and the pacing more accurately reflects the timing of Georgian England. Also, Mr. Collins is rightfully disgusting. (I kind of have this thing for P&P adaptations because I’m perpetually making up for not having a great experience reading the book due to deciding to read it during exams last year.)

And–you guessed it–I’m still addicted to Gilmore Girls. I’m almost halfway through Season 5 now, though I didn’t mean to make it go that fast! It’s just what I watch when I need a little calming down, because it’s both escapism and a way for me to think about the rocky path of life. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] Luke and Lorelai are perfect,. I’ve also got a lot of thoughts about Dean as a character and how he really outstayed his purpose as a character, and really doesn’t have much outside of Rory as a result. He needs to go back to college and form his own life! (And as the episodes noted, he really doesn’t offer much to Rory intellectually.) So yes, I’m kind of glad he’s gone. Now I will patiently wait for Jess to show up in Season 6, because I know what happens then and I’m so proud of him! (Unlike Dean, he had character outside of Rory and he actually grows up. You could see some of it in Season 4.)

I’m also enjoying The Eighties documentaries on CNN (though they better replay the technology one that didn’t air because of the coverage of the Paul Ryan/Trump fued). They’re more of an overview than anything, but I like how the series covers cultural and social aspects as well as the big headlines. The Sixties and The Seventies are also on Netflix now, so I’ve been catching up with the ones I missed of them (which are most!).

Classic Middle Grade and YA: The Austin Family Chronicles (Books 1, 2, and 4) by Madeleine L’Engle

Middle Grade Reads

One of my major reading goals this year is to read more middle grade fiction, both classic and contemporary. I’m currently writing a manuscript that fits into this category and would like to explore some beloved stories I missed when I was younger, as well as read from the current market.

Continue reading “Classic Middle Grade and YA: The Austin Family Chronicles (Books 1, 2, and 4) by Madeleine L’Engle”

Waiting on Wednesday: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Waiting on Wednesday

This Wednesday I would like to highlight a book that’s coming out on Tuesday, May 31: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman.

the view from the cheap seats.jpgAn enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on a myriad of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.

An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

I’ve read (and enjoyed) quite a bit of Gaiman’s fiction, but one of my favorite things from him is his nonfiction, like his blog posts, the Make Good Art speech (included in this collection, I believe), and his introduction to the newest edition of FahreInheit 451 (I’m not sure if that’s included…I couldn’t find a table of contents). As I’ve loved these and reading essay-like blog posts in general, I’m really interested into diving into more essay/nonfiction collections, especially if they relate to writing and books. (I’m planning to read a collection of George Orwell essays soon, and I previously enjoyed Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.)

You can listen to the introduction on audio (read by Gaiman himself) here, and I admit it did convince me to pick this up as soon as I could. Though I want the physical book to skip around based on what I feel like reading, I might check out the audiobook from the library sometime to listen to it. There’s just something about an author reading his or her own words.

Will you also be checking this out? What particularly books are you looking forward to?

Happy reading and writing!

Project Decreasing the Physical TBR Before Going to College

Above are most of the physical books I own that are unread, which likely will make up a  big chunk of my summer TBR because I would like to knock them out before I go to college. This doesn’t include some large anthologies I have (Complete Fiction of Lovecraft, all of Poe, all of Sherlock Holmes) as well as some classics, literary journals, and nonfiction anthologies.

Without further ado, here is what I definitely want to read this summer (combined with some library and other books, of course) and why they’re still on this pile:

“Lyra’s Oxford” by Phillip Pullman: This short story sequel to His Dark Materials I’ve had for a long time–like 7 years–but I’m not sure if I’ve ever read it. Since I reread the trilogy at the end of last year, I figured it would be a good time to pick it up (though I didn’t mean to wait until the summer!)

The Celebrated Jumping Frog and Other Stories  by Mark Twain: I’ve had this cheap little book for a very long time and never got around to it…and since I’ve been reading short stories more recently, it seems like a right time. Otherwise, I’m sure it will sit on my

The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays by Oscar Wilde: I read Earnest this year for school and loved it, and I picked up this collection specifically so that I could read the others, as I decided last year I was going to read as much Oscar Wilde as possible because I love his comedic style.

The View from Saturday by E.L. Koninsburg: I bought this recently because I had a coupon from Simon & Schuster. It’s a classic middle grade novel, so it contributes toward my exploration of new and classic middle grade, and it involves an Academic Bowl team, which I was also on in middle school!

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch: I just recieved this as a gift, and while I don’t know much about it (yet), I do trust the recommender. And since it was a graduation gift, it’s probably best to read it soon to capture the mood!

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: I’ve been slowly working my way through Gaiman, and this is certainly one of his major works I’ve been meaning to read for a while and finally bought.

Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket: I’ve been reading this series–the companion/prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events–as they’ve come out, more or less, and this is the final one. Whether because of the books themselves or my own maturity, I do admit the first two charmed me more than the last, which is part of why I haven’t picked it up yet.

A Collection of Essays by George Orwell: I received this for Christmas of 2014 and despite being really interested in it, I still haven’t picked it up. It was definitely something I didn’t want to rush through during school, and I’m thinking I might approach this by reading an essay at a time.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell: Another gift from that Christmas, this is admittedly one I still might not get to this summer. I admit I tend to avoid nonfiction, and while I’ve studied history including the Spanish Civil War and think I would like reading this, I might avoid it a little while longer for personal reasons.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: I bought this with a coupon last fall because it was a classic I was quite curious about. I think I’ll read it soon, as I just finished The Handmaid’s Tale and I’m in the literary dystopia mood.

Have you read or are you interested in any of these? What do you think?

Discussion: Reading Two Books at Once

I said this would be probably a post about The Handmaid’s Tale, which I figured I would finish soon this week. Well…I completely underestimated how little time I had with all the graduation festivities. Also, when  Some Kind of Happiness came in the mail, I started it, too, because I wanted to read the beginning and see what it was like. So, now that I’m reading two books at once, I’ve got a new topic!

I usually avoid reading two books in the same format at once. When I do read two books at the same time, one is usually for school and is read at a different speed and is associated with “homework” (aka, I won’t have to choose between the books in my free time), or it’s an audiobook that I listen to during times when I can’t read a normal book. In the few times where I do read two novels, one of them is usually shorter than the other (like a short middle grade book).

I’ve also tried reading a poetry collection at the same time as other books (a few poems every day), but I often forgot about it and it took me forever to finish (it didn’t help that the collection wasn’t really centered around subjects I was interested in). Still, when I hear of others reading two books at once, they’re often different genres/markets: a novel and a short story collection, a novel and nonfiction, a novel and an essay collection.

But the problem I’ve found is that, aside from when I have to read a book for school, the books just seem to go more slowly. It feels inefficient. I have to constantly choose between which to read, so I don’t feel fully immersed in one book and they drag on. It especially bothers me because for a long time, I planned my reading around a simple “book a week” schedule. That made me feel accomplished, but it was also limiting.

And yet, I think with more time on my hands this summer and beyond, I’ll be able to set aside time dedicated to one thing at a time. For instance, during the day I could read the novel, and then before bed I could read one or two short stories or essays. This is especially important to me because I have several complete short story collections (like Poe and Lovecraft) that I will just never get to if I expect to read them all the way through.

I think I’m going to focus on and finish off The Handmaid’s Tale before continuing Some Kind of Happiness, and then I really do want to start George Orwell’s essay collection!

What about you? How do you read multiple things at once, if all?

Currently Reading and Updates: 5/14/16

Currently Reading

Another week. This one’s a busy one for me–I’m graduating from high school, have a bunch of senior things going on, which might be fun but also exhausting. I’m very ready to graduate and enter a new phase in my life, at this point.

rory graduation
(Can you tell I’m obsessed with Gilmore Girls?)

Despite all of this, I also don’t have much to do at school, so plenty of time to read! I still have to finish The Handmaid’s Tale, because this weekend ended up busier than I thought, but I’m enjoying the writing so much that I don’t want to rush it.

some kind of happinessAfter that, I think I want to move onto A Clockwork Orange, because apparently I’m into literary dystopia right now, and I’ve had that one in my possession for a while. Although, my copy of Some Kind of Happiness (see my Waiting on Wednesday post here) should hopefully arrive around its release date on Tuesday, and I will definitely be devouring it!

I’d like to get my post about Madeliene L’Engle’s Austen Family series up this Friday, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen…oh well. But I’ve got thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale, so it isn’t all bad!

With everything else going on, writing has taken a bit of a backseat. I’m starting to move away from the project I just started back to the one I almost finished before I realized I wanted to restructure the plot…there’s a lot of work to do on that one, and I haven’t decided what I want to keep, or if I should bother jettisoning some of my ideas yet. But I’m thinking that with the extra time I’ll have in the summer, I’ll be able to give it the focus it deserves. It’s definitely the story where my heart is right now. I’m excited for everything ahead.

Me vs. Timed Writing Exams

Upon the completion of my last IB History HL paper, I am now completely done with those 4- or 5-paragraph, 40ish minute timed essays for exams. Thank goodness.

rory exhausted.gif

These are “AP-style” essays pretty much intended for timed writings. After all three AP histories, both AP Englishes, plus IB History and English (though, thankfully that one had a longer time limit and more meat to it), as well as all the accompanying practice and tests in class. (Oh, and AP French, which also included a similar essay. What a surprise.) Basically, I can crank these things out, but I hate the anticipation that builds to them and I never want to do them.

Maybe my mind will change when I’m a teacher, but honestly, the only thing I think these are useful for is getting something down on paper when there’s a time limit and, in the case of history, testing your ability to analyze from what you remember about the topic. Well, and I suppose to get something out of the students who won’t turn in their papers if you assign them at home. They serve well for that purpose–the graders aren’t extremely harsh and, furthermore, don’t spened that much time scoring them–but it just lacks something more.

I’ll do well on ever single essay, but there’s nothing I’m esepecially proud of or that I enjoyed. Okay, I admit I do enjoy the English ones if I have a cool analysis of the prompt/extract/poem and I get excited about it. But I can’t consider them among my best essays because they’re riddled with little errors (and bad handwriting) because I didn’t have the time left over to carefully reread. And while I do have to curb my habit of obsessive typo-checking, sometimes you just need to sleep on your thesis, do a bit of reading, and give yourself time to think of something that’s exactly what you want.

They’re also terribly formulaic. Context and thesis. Two or three main points with supporting evidence and analysis to connect to your thesis. Conclusion to wrap it up.There’s a limited way of going about it. You’ve also got to write linerally, and if you’re someone like me with concentration problems and accustomed to writing  (especially creatively) on a computer, it can be frustrating. I usually write on a word processor by jumping around when I have ideas or a specific way to word something and then connect and rearrange everything (and rewrite some). This is why writing something with a clear beginning and end and continuity on paper doesn’t jive well with me. And so, I don’t think the actual process of writing essays should be a one-fits-all approach.

I don’t really have a comment about the nature of standardized tests, because I haven’t had an experience with the new standards myself, and these exams are certainly not created with the same intentions. (Though I have heard some things about the approach to English…but that’s another thing. Plus, these tests are rapidly moving online.)  When I was in elementary in middle school, we always had a writing prompt that was more open-ended and creative, and I always found myself coming up with something fantastical.

That was fun. And for me, I do enjoy mad creative fervor..but I think it’s not the best way to teach writing to begin with. That isn’t what AP does necessarily, but I think with some students, the limited time and space makes it difficult for them to improve. A few take-home and extended time essays might not be enough for them to get it down in time.

So I’m not a fan (and frankly am just exhausted of these things), and I think it would be incredibly difficult to teach to all students. …And I’m also more exicted than I probably should be to have papers assigned for college.