Thursday, March 22, 2012

Contemporary and Classics

Right now, I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my 10th grade English classes.  I will soon begin Of Mice and Men with my 11th grade English classes, and Holes with my Reading class.  Of these three novels, on Holes by Louis Sachar is considered to be young adult reading, but each year we perpetuate the cycle of classic literature onto today's high school students.  I find myself this year asking why?

It's not that I don't believe in the validity and power of the aforementioned novels, I do.  Wholeheartedly.  To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best novels ever written, and while many students do become attached to the novel, rarely do they do so until Tom dies - even throughout the court case, they keep waiting for the Disney ending to come along and save the day.  It isn't coming.

I guess what I'm pondering here is the question - if they won't read the classics, what will they read that has literary merit?  There is a slew of Young Adult novels out there, but which ones are best to teach?  I'm writing one myself, and I'm not sure it'll ever see the light of publication, but if it does - can I teach it?  Does it merit an in-depth study.  It has language, and sex, and violence, but it's real.  I believe young people want to read something real and relevant to them.  Just this year, we as teachers, requested to teach The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  We were denied for two main reasons:

  1. They claimed the reading level was too low.  I assure you, based on what I am working with, it was NOT too low.
  2. The content was not appropriate.  In the novel their is a masturbation moment of a teenage boy - really, is that far fetched?  I think not.
The content is age-appropriate, the reading level allows for understanding, and the historical work we could have done with Native American tribes would have been fantastic.  I believe it was the mention of masturbation that upset the powers that be more than the reading level.   Yet, it's okay to read about murder, mayhem, drinking, suicide, drug use, incest, sex, racism, rape, and retardation.  These are just a few of the topics I teach in the "approved" selections for 10th and 11th grade reading.  But masturbation, that is over the line.

There is a debate in our county over selecting books kids would read anyway, saying that "If they would read it anyway, we shouldn't teach it."  But, I disagree.

Teaching a book is very different from simply reading for pleasure.  And some books that are great stories require an in-depth look at the historical basis for students to really appreciate the literature.

So, with all of that said - any recommendations from the masses out there about more modern contemporary novels that merit a study as much as the classics? 

Thoughts and opinions welcomed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed is the sequel to the amazing book Matched by Ally Condie.  It is the second book in the trilogy.  Crossed  continues to follow the life of Cassia Reyes and her quest to find the boy she loves and the redemption from her Society life, The Rising. 

At the end of Matched, the reader is left wondering what Cassia will do - how will she solve her love choice between Xander and Ky?  We know Ky is the man of the hour, but her childhood love for Xander is never far from her thoughts.  Crossed answers that question for us and much more.  And within this simple decision of love, Cassia is also to answer questions that are bigger than she is...what is the journey of life all about?  Is their ever true freedom - freedom from The Society, or freedom in The Rising?  Cassia believes with all her heart that The Rising is the answer she needs.  The answer to her love for Ky or Xander, the answer to who she can trust, the answer to save her soul.  It's the quest of a lifetime.

Her journey is long and hard.  She meets some she can trust and finds that others she thought she knew were keeping secrets from her, secrets that change almost everything.  She is challenged.  Ky is challenged.  And the true conflict of the story is how they meet, and sometimes fail to meet, the test in front of them.  They are both seeing the world as a different place, but for Cassia it is all new.  Ky brings his family demons with him and his status as an aberration, but Cassia has never known anything outside the comfort of The Society, until now. 

She proves to be a strong heroine, not afraid to take chances.  She endures, as well as anyone else,  scourging across unknown territory.  She will let nothing stand in her way of getting to Ky, The Rising, or back to her family; even back to Xander. 

Crossed as a sequel does not disappoint.  It hints enough at Matched to keep the reader engaged and wondering about the characters met before now, but moves forward in a way that introduces new characters, settings, and plot lines to the reader in an unobtrusive way.

This book is written from both Ky and Cassia's viewpoint, it shifts every chapter.  I must admit, I found myself enjoying the chapters from Ky's viewpoint more than Cassia's.  I'm not sure why, I can't quite put my finger on it.  Possibly because I believed so much in the suffering of Ky's character and knew the true heartbreak that would ensue for him if he was to lose Cassia in this book.  I kept reading to make sure Ky was safe and loved.  My heart bleeds for him.  I'm not sure how I feel about Xander, and sometimes how I feel about Cassia.

I can't wait for the final book to hit the shelves so I can devour it as quickly as I've devoured the first two.  Ally Condie - you certainly have my attention!

I can't find a date for when this will be released, but when I do - I'll post it! :-)