Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hunger Games - The Series - Better Late Than Never

Title: The Hunger Games - Catching Fire - Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 374, 391, 390

    Since the movie has been out, I'm not going to go into detail about the plot.  Even if you haven't seen the movie, I'm sure you know it.  In some future world, after a great civil war, the government reminds the people each year of the death and destruction of the revolution through The Hunger Games.  A boy and girl from each of the 12 districts are chosen to fight to the death in the arena and televised to all.  The main character, Katniss, takes her sister's place in the Games and incites a new revolution through her refusal to play the Game as the government intended.  As a coming of age story (across all 3 books), it includes a love triangle and search for identity, while she becomes both the most hated and loved icon in this civilization.
     Reading the series, I was transported back to my own adolescent time of struggle, persecution, wonderment, and discovery.  I read this book with the purpose of being entertained, not enlightened, and enjoyed the ride immensely.  As many others have detailed, there are some very gruesome deaths and the idea of kids killing each other is quite horrifying, but the fictional arena and competition isn't much different from Survivor, Amazing Race, and the multitude of other reality shows.  What will it take before we begin to celebrate the gladiators of modern times?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Song I Knew By Heart - A Contempory Ruth

Title: A Song I Knew By Heart
Author: Bret Lott
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN-10: 0345437756
Pages: 336

A contemporary take on the story of Ruth, this version is told by Naomi. It begins with the funeral of Ruth's husband, who was Naomi's son. Already a widow, Naomi had been living with her son and wife, but then she felt the call to go home – which means South Carolina. To her surprise, Ruth decides to move with her because “it isn't that she didn't have anything, but she had Naomi”. Both women continue to deal with the pain of widowhood, but Naomi is also feeling guilty for a one-night stand with her husband's business partner, now dying of cancer, who was the reason her son was driving on treacherous roads on the night he crashed. As the traditional story goes, Ruth finds love – a kind man who also loves Ruth's family and Naomi finds forgiveness and releases her bitterness. If you are into Nicholas Sparks novels, you might like this one, but I found myself skimming rather than reading. I think the original story has a lot more power and beauty.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Names and Naming in YA Lit - Nice tidbits

Title: Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature
Authors: Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don L.F. Nilsen
Publisher:Scarecrow Press
ISBN: 0-8108-5808-0
Pages: 165

This is one off my shelf. I bought it awhile ago but haven't gotten to it. I've often had students ask me about the intentionality of authors when they name characters. When I've attended readings by authors, that question is often asked also. Some authors don't name their characters until well into the writing and as the personality develops. Other authors state that the character just existed, and the author just wrote down the story. I was finally prompted to pick up this book because of finishing The Hunger Games and I was impressed with the author's ability to use names to foreshadow and extend the depth of characterization. Katniss – an edible water plant that is known for arrow shaped leaves. Rhue – or rue, to regret or be sorrowful. Peeta – close to pita bread, which reminds the reader of his origin. And, although Haymitch doesn't seem to have an origin, I kept thinking “hayseed” which is slang for a bumpkin or a yokel, which in the beginning, he certainly seems to be. There is a nice summary of names in Hunger Games here: Name Meanings.

The Nilsens had the honor of interviewing Robert Cormier many years ago about his use of names in novel such as The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese, and After the First Death. This interview turned into an article, which turned into a book. Although the book isn't hefty, there's a lot of interesting tidbits, which are even more interesting for anyone who as read the authors the Nilsens highlight such as: M.E. Kerr, Gary Paulsen, Louis Sachar, Francesca Lia Block, Karen Cushman, Gary Soto, Nancy Farmer, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. LeGuin. In many cases, the Nilsens have communicated with the authors directly, plus they link historical naming trends and facts to how the authors selected names.

There is a preview of the book here: Names and Naming in Young Adult Literature 

Although a bit old, here is Alleen Nilsen's YA BookPage