Tag Archives: young adult literature

Paper Towns: Revisited

My sophomore year of college I read a John Green book called Paper Towns and wrote a none-too-complimentary review of it here. Now, two and a half years later, said book has been made into a movie (which is fabulous, by the way, you should definitely watch it – after you read the book of course), prompting me to reread the thoughts I’d had upon finishing the book. In 2013, my biggest problem with the book was its perpetuation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character type. The fact that the entire plot of the book revolved around a girl who everyone thought they knew but no one actually did left a bad taste in my mouth. After leaving the movie theater there was no bad taste, quite the opposite in fact. I thought the movie did an excellent job of destroying the MPDG and showing that the real Margo Roth Spiegleman was nothing like what Q had made her out to be. I would be interested to reread the book and see if I still get a bad taste, and the movie was just that much better at explaining the concept and subsequently unraveling it, or if I find that I somehow missed the point the first time around. I have a strong suspicion it would be the latter. I like to think that in the two and a half years since I wrote that review I have grown immensely as a person, become a better critical thinker (If I haven’t then thousands of dollars and hours were wasted for that Political Science bachelors because let me tell you I have no “practical” skills) and gained more understanding of the world and people around me. What saddens me now is that as this story reaches a wider audience, there might be more people like 19-year-old me who misconstrue the ultimate message of Paper Towns. John recently wrote an article on Medium about Paper Towns press that addresses this issue:

Like, there’s a line in the beginning of the novel: “Everyone gets a miracle.” The male narrator of the story believes his miracle is Margo Roth Spiegelman, the character Cara plays in the movie. Later in the book, the boy realizes that Margo is not a miracle, that she is just a person, and that his imagining her as a miracle has been terribly hurtful to them both. But still, I was asked over a hundred times, “Who’s your miracle?” At first, I tried to fight it, tried to argue that we must see people as people, that we must learn to imagine them complexly instead of idealizing them, that the romantic male gaze is limiting and destructive to women. That’s the whole point of the story to me.

John, I get it now! I understand now that writing about something doesn’t have to mean perpetuating it, that writing about something could bring it to the attention of someone who had never thought about it before. I understand now that the point of Paper Towns isn’t to glorify the MPDG, but to challenge readers (and watchers) to imagine others complexly. This is not a retraction of my previous post – in fact, I still agree with almost everything I wrote, and I’m proud of 19-year-old Megan for thinking about the oppressive societal standards women live under – but a reflection. I’ve heard movie production for Looking For Alaska is moving right along, so we’ll see if I need to write another one of these after seeing its adaptation. I for one hope so.

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Boy Books: Breaking across gender boundaries

There are boy books, and there are girl books. It’s just a fact of literature. However, that doesn’t mean that girls can’t read boy books, and vice versa. This is something I prove daily.

Some of my favorite books are books directed toward middle school boys. Take John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series for example. These books center on a 16-year-old boy named Will who becomes an apprentice to a mysterious Ranger, a group of men skilled in noiseless movement, camouflage, knife-throwing and archery. Give me a character with a bow and arrow and I will be a happy camper. But imagine the looks I got as a high school student carrying these books from class to class. “Megan, what are you reading?” Oh, you know, just books about teenage warriors learning how to sword fight and throw knives. I was judged, but luckily I never worried much about that. However, I think it’s sad that it would be more socially acceptable for me to say I was reading about girls in short skirts backstabbing each other or discussing the pros and cons of different superficial guys they think are “hot.”

Another of my favorite boy book series is the Airborn trilogy by Kenneth Oppel. These books follow the story of cabin boy Matt Cruse and his adventures on an airship. With a  little romance and a lot of swashbuckling, it’s the perfect mix. The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson is one more fantastic series directed toward boys that is absolutely fantastic. It tells of the adventures of a young James Bond attending boarding school in England, and retains all the intrigue, danger, love and betrayal that are key elements to any Bond story.

While I accept that there are books geared specifically for each gender, I am a firm believer that no one is confined by those standards. If you’re a guy who likes bildungsromans whose main character is a girl, then you shouldn’t be judged any more than a girl who happens to enjoy science fiction or war novels. Everyone is different, and no one has to choose one genre of book and stick with it. Read often and read variety. I  enjoy a good romance novel just as much as the next girl (Pride and Prejudice anyone?), but that doesn’t mean I can’t fight pirates or battle dragons with the boys. Read what you like – and no matter what that may be, just remember there’s a girl that’s a sophomore in college anxiously awaiting the next big series featuring a 16-year-old stowaway/archer/explorer. And proud of it.

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Graceling: One of the most underrated teen book series

Everyone’s heard of the Hunger Games. They’re a huge phenomenon, especially with the movies coming out. I’m not going to bash the Hunger Games, I love them (except maybe Mockingjay), and they’re about the only post-apocalypse/distopian society books I can stand. That being said, although they’re definitely a huge step above Twilight, there are better teen books out there with plot lines that are much more complex than the Katniss-Gale-Peeta love traingle.

Take Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue for example. Never heard of them? You’re not alone. Her debut novel, Graceling, was released in 2008, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I got my hands on it. The story centers on a teenage girl named Katsa who is graced with fighting. Because of her skills she is used by royalty as an assassin, but then she meets a boy, Prince Po, who helps her realize she doesn’t have to do what she’s told. They fall in love (triangle free), but their love is not the purpose of the story: It’s a story of oppression, rebellion, bravery, forgiveness and deceit.

Next, instead of creating a sequel, which would’ve been the obvious next step, Cashore wrote a companion for Graceling called Fire. Set in the same realm as Graceling, Fire takes many years earlier in a different kingdom. This story follows another strong herione, Fire, a beautiful but strange creature. There is one common character between the books, and while it’s not imperative that the reader have finished Graceling, the back story of this character is beautifully and terribly unwoven throughout Fire which lead to many of those “ah-ha” moments that we readers all love.

Then, in 2012, Bitterblue was released, a sequel to Graceling that takes place eight years later. This book takes a more somber turn and addresses some of the most serious issues in the series. It follows the story of young Queen Bitterblue as she uncovers the truth of her past. She must unravel the tangled web left by her father and restore order to her kingdom, all while moonlighting as a poor castle servant and learning the truths of her people. Favorite characters from Fire and Graceling come together, bringing resolution to the kingdom. However, the ending is ultimately left open to interpretation (or another novel, hint hint).

Series like this make me wonder what else is out there that doesn’t get as much attention from the media. Part of me wants these books to get the recognition I know they deserve, but the other part wants to keep them as my own personal treasures. However, I have now shared with you the greatness that is the saga of the gracelings, and I expect you to take full advantage of that.

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