Seal of Approval: STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

Seal of Approval – STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

Written by Grant Goodman, 9/28/2014

When a small percentage of humanity developed superpowers, there was hope that the people would use them for good. Instead, they chose to abuse their powers and crush humanity beneath them. David is one of the normal humans, living in Newcago, under the rule of Steelheart. And while Steelheart has proven to be absolutely invincible, has defeated every challenger without injury, David has witnessed something no one else has: he has seen Steelheart bleed.

David’s goal is to join up with the Reckoners, a band of humans dedicated to assassinating the overlords and freeing those who live in terror. He wants to make Steelheart bleed once more.

Full disclosure: reading Brandon Sanderson’s work will change you. The man is an amazing writer and, despite the self-deprecation on the Writing Excuses podcast, he is one of the top writers in ANY field, not just YA. (Seriously, read Mistborn.) Side note: if you are a writer, those podcasts are golden for gaining insight into the craft.

This book, his first foray into YA, is a heart-pounding, action-packed romp through a devastated future version of Chicago. David has seen his father die at the hands of Steelheart, he has watched as Steelheart’s right-hand men walk around like kings and treat others like slaves.

When David crosses paths with the Reckoners, it’s a messy introduction, and it has the chance to ruin their shot at assassinating an important figure in the city. But he has goals and he isn’t going to let anything get in his way.

I read this book in two days and I am sure that when the sequel drops in January, I’ll be doing something similar.

BONUS POST: Mac Barnett TED Talk – “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door”

Today, I’m going to recommend that you take 15 minutes and watch something that is absolutely brilliant.

Mac Barnett discusses the craft of fiction, lying to children, and creating meta-fiction. The man’s creativity and imagination is stunning, especially when he starts talking about his time travel store.

(A HUGE thank you to Darshan Jain for sending me this video in the first place.)

Feminism in YA: Katniss Everdeen

Feminism in YA Literature: Katniss Everdeen

Written by Grant Goodman, 9/26/2014

You cannot ignore the roles of girls and women in literature. I mean this both in terms of fiction and in real life. For starters, women read more than men do. In turn, it should be reasonable to expect that there are more female leads in literature than male leads. So how are some of the more popular YA lit titles treating their leads?

Full disclosure, people: I am not a scholar of feminist theory or literature. I am also a man. I took one course on feminism in science-fiction when I was a senior in college. Occasionally, I engage in conversation with those who know a TON more about the subject than I do. That does not make me any sort of authority figure. So if you can add to the discussion and further my education, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

Since the YA blogging world is going to be driven by Mockingjay discussion for the next few weeks, I figured I should start with Katniss Everdeen.

In the first novel, this is a little of what we learn about her: she is the sole provider for her family, she is the mother figure for her sister, she is a hunter, she has a male best friend with whom she does not have romantic involvement, and she does not suffer fools gladly.

I don’t want to use the generic “Is she a ‘strong female lead?’” approach, because I think that term has been kicked around far too much.

Instead, I’d like to simply examine Katniss’ status as a role model.

  1. Katniss understands that adulthood and maturity are defined by your ability to take care of others.

She hunts for food. She looks out for her sister. She (grudgingly) looks after her mother. These roles eat up an enormous amount of her time and energy. Yet, she does them. She carries on.

  1. Katniss understands the true meaning of sacrifice.

This operates on two levels. First, she has sacrificed her adolescence in order to keep her family together. As a teacher, I can tell you that there are few things more heartbreaking than learning that one of your 12 year old students is having to take up the role of mother or father in the family due to negligence, disappearance, or illness.

Second is the literal sacrifice she makes, offering herself as a participant in the Hunger Games, rather than letting her sister be chosen. This second type of sacrifice also comes into play during the games on several occasions.

  1. Katniss struggles with her media portrayal, in which she achieves extra attention once a romantic entanglement with Peeta surfaces as part of the games.

This is a complicated one to navigate, folks. Not just for her, but for the readers. At one point in the games, her hopes for survival hinge on selling a love story to an audience. And so you are rooting for her to pull through, but I also hope that you understand how twisted that situation is. The inner monologue pieces, in which Katniss isn’t sure how she feels about Peeta (is it real? Is it manufactured?) were some of the strongest pieces of writing in that first novel. She recognizes and admits the confusion, she grapples with it rather than simply accepting and blocking it out of her mind.

Okay, I’m struggling to find a proper way of concluding this. Because, honestly, like any human being, there are traits she carries that aren’t worthy of admiration, too.

But what I can say is that by presenting a character who is a mixture of shadow and light, responsibility and rejection, Suzanne Collins gives us someone realistic who we can discuss intelligently, and in my mind, that is a victory.

Why YA Works for Adults, Part I

Why YA Works for Adults, Part I

Written by Grant Goodman, 9/24/2014

You don’t have to hide it anymore. You can come right out and say that you read YA, even though you’re an adult. YA-focused book clubs are popping up in every major US city. Book signings are filled up by post-grads and young couples.

So what led us here?

Part of it is the ongoing nerd revolution. The central tenets of geek culture have seeped into the mainstream. Maybe it’s that the people who loved the stuff as kids are now finding themselves in positions of power and attention. Or maybe that Harry Potter kid broke open a fissure in the collective hearts of humanity and everyone realized that books starring teens can connect to all of us on a very deep level.

Much of the appeal of YA for adults, I’m going to posit, comes from a sense of nostalgia. We’ve had time to recover from the hormone rush and the anger and the senses of loss that run deep. The media we consume at that age stick with us for life. There are studies that have been done and they tie adolescent experience to why we hold so tightly to the music from our teens. It should make perfect sense, then, that a book centered on teenage life will invariably trigger memories of our own lives, the kind that are soaked in intense emotion, that really light up our brains.

This could be for better or for worse. There were moments in Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart that absolutely made me cringe, because David’s social oversights and blunders reminded me so much of my own (you know, despite the fact that he’s busy trying to kill supervillains in a wrecked version of Chicago). And then, of course, there are moments in which you witness a character get something right, and you remember how it felt to finally get something done that even the adults in your life couldn’t accomplish. Read Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and you’ll get several examples of that. (I’ll leave it vague, no spoilers here.)

This topic, why YA appeals to adults, is one I plan to come back to every now and again. Until then, though, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

What are your thoughts on why YA is taking off among an older readership?

Seal of Approval – THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner

Seal of Approval – THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner

Written by Grant Goodman, 9/23/2014

A boy wakes up in an elevator, he can’t remember his full name, and he has no idea where he is. When the elevator grinds to a halt, he’s pulled out by a group of boys and he finds himself in the center of a deadly maze.

It has your attention, doesn’t it?

THE MAZE RUNNER is a pressure-cooker of a story that is built on the unknown. Thomas has no idea who he is (literally and figuratively), no one knows how the maze works, and no one knows if there’s any way out. What they do know? Someone keeps sending them food, someone keeps sending them new recruits, and no one has seen a girl in years.

The village at the center of the maze is a creepy mess, full of hidden corners and missing names. There’s an overwhelming sense of shadow and danger that lingers on every page.

Plus, there’s a movie version in theatres right now.

Trust me, once you start reading, you won’t stop. This is the kind of book that will destroy your sleep schedule, and it’s completely worth it. (Especially because you have THE SCORCH TRIALS and THE DEATH CURE to read, too.)

BONUS POST: Ad for AFTERWORLDS by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld has a new novel coming out. I love his writing (UGLIES, PEEPS, SO YESTERDAY) and I can’t wait to see what this new tale is going to be.

Check out this semi-sort-of-trailer for it.

WARNING: Contains John Green, James Dashner, Holly Black, and Gayle Forman, among others.