random thoughts


Since this has a much wider audience than my personal blog, I thought I’d mention it here, too. Even though this isn’t what I usually talk about here. Basically, I thought I knew where I was going to college and then got an offer that shakes it all up, and I don’t know what to do.

To sum it up: I have two options that are fantastic. Option #1 is Jacobs University, an English-speaking school in Bremen, Germany. I’d get to experience German culture, and learn a new language. It would be the cheaper of the two, and I’d have the opportunity to travel in Europe; however, the campus and course catalog don’t match what I want as well as option #2. Option #2 is Fordham University, a great school in New York City, that would be considerably more expensive. However, some of the specifics match what I want more, and I love New York. I wouldn’t have any money during my years there, though! Both offer good options after graduation. 

If you have insight/advice, please share. If you have general advice or if you’re from one of these places or know a lot about the schools or just anything. I can use all the help I can get.

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In my English class, we started out the first full day by reading an interesting excerpt of Stephen King’s On Writing. It was a few pages photocopied thirty times so we could all circle, underline, make notes, etc. (I’m not entirely sure if this is legal, but schools do it all the time). Interesting thoughts, makes me want to read more of the book, etc. Not the issue. 

The issue is the censorship. Someone had whited out all of the “offensive language” so we didn’t read it. Of course, we can all guess what goes in the blanks, but the whiting-out was far more offensive, to me, than the language. Seventeen and eighteen year olds all know those words, we hear them all the time. It’s not as if you’re spoiling our innocence by exposing us to the word “damn;” the very idea is laughable. That’s funny, but it’s also offensive, to me, to do that to someone’s writing, to deem it appropriate except for some part of it, to not give us the integrity of the whole piece of writing. Because you know what, sometimes the whole feeling of something, the whole meaning of it, can be changed by a few words. That’s not true of the excerpt of Stephen King’s book, but it’s the principle of it–removing pages, whiting out words, I find that all very distasteful and offensive. If the whole of the work isn’t good enough for you, then don’t use it in class–don’t decide it’s all okay except students can’t be exposed to some part of it. Any agreement? Dissent?

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In fourth grade in North Carolina, we have a writing test where we have to write a short story about some prompt or another. They range from boring (“Write about the best birthday you ever had.”) to bizarre (“Imagine you open your lunchbox and there’s a frog inside. What do you do?”). We spend all of third and fourth grade practicing for this test. The writing skills taught are incredibly bizarre.

We’re not supposed to use boring words. We’re supposed to be creative. For example, we are never supposed to say “bad”; instead, it’s “horrible,” “terrible,” or “awful.” “Walking” is another no-no. “Lumbering,” “striding,” and “skipping” are all preferred. We are also supposed to insert as many adjectives and adverbs as possible to make our writing descriptive. Of course, not boring adverbs and adjectives. Similes and metaphors are also used heavily. Writing the word “said” is enough to get you sent to fourth grade creative writing hell. 

For example, a sane person would write, “Carl didn’t like Susie. One day, on the playground, he said she was dumb. Then he walked over to her and hit her with his blue lunchbox. She cried.” (Not that this is an example of good writing, anyway, but you get what I mean). An obedient North Carolina fourth  grader would turn that sentence into, “A hideous, elephant-sized boy with firetruck-red hair called Carl absolutely despised the beautiful, golden-haired Susie. On a bright, sunny day, at recess on the rocky, dirty playground, he shouted evilly and loudly that she was horribly dumb. Then he, cruelly strode over to her and  angrilly hit her with is sky blue, shiny plastic lunchbox like a Power Ranger. She wept giant tears like a smelly, apple-cheeked baby.” Or something like that. Ridiculous, no?

Needless to say, if anyone actually wrote in this style and tried to publish a book, their manuscript would be laughed out of any reputable agent’s office. 

I am trying to figure out why the state feels the need to teach people to write like that. Most of us know how to read and figure out pretty quickly that it’s insane, and I can’t imagine that there are people in the department of public instruction actually believe this to be good writing. Any theories?

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No review, but I figured I should at least blog about what I read casually. 

I finished my summer reading this weekend (not as crazy as it sounds; I have second semester English, and this week is the first of the new semester), and the books assigned this year were George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I preferred Huxley’s novel, but both were decent, and relatively readable when compared to some past assigned reading. Though they both had expectedly depressing endings.  However, they are also both perfect examples, in my opinion, of books made into classics for their importance rather than their quality.

Neither book is particularly well-written. The characters are flat on the page, and the settings hardly mentioned. Brave New World in particularly could have really used a copyeditor. If we’re going on literary merit or normal people appeal, these books are far from remarkable. It’s the ideas that have made them classics, the dystopian cautionary tales about conformity and information control. While I find the ideas intriguing and important, I really didn’t think that reading the books was particularly productive. Regardless, they didn’t suck, I was able to read them without hating words, and I guess that’s an improvement over last year’s books. 

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Steph mentioned the other day that I sometimes review books crazy early, as in, months prior to the release date, and it’s true. Some of you might be wondering why, so I’m going to explain my reading/reviewing process a little.

As soon as I read books, they’re fresh in my mind, but I think through it first (I write down notes immediately and wait a few hours to a few days before writing the review), so I won’t just be caught up in my infatuation with the book (a problem I’ve had before) and I can step back and see its strengths and weaknesses (every book has them). I don’t want to wait too long, though, or I won’t remember the book or my thoughts on it quite as well. 

So why do I read books when I do? Because that’s when they catch my attention. I flip through every book that comes through my door, and they go on a “never read” stack to give away, a “read later” stack, a “read really soon” stack, or I start reading them right away, based on how interested I am. If a book catches my attention, I’ll read it; if it doesn’t, I won’t. That’s so I’m not forcing myself to read something I don’t feel like reading, because I know I won’t like a book if I feel like I have to read it.

I know that some authors/publishers prefer reviews around the release date. Others don’t mind early buzz. However, unless I am specifically told by whoever sends me the book when they’d prefer a review, I don’t know which authors/publishers fall into which category. If I’m told, “don’t review this until April,” I won’t. If I’m not, and it catches my attention in January…then I’ll read and review it in January, even though I don’t know when they want a review. I figure a good review is a good review, and I am in favor of both early buzz AND release date buzz, so I really don’t think it matters a lot (this is the time for anyone who sends me books to tell me if you don’t want early reviews!). 

So pretty much, the reason for my early reviews is that you can’t make everyone happy, and as soon as I read a book, I want to tell you all about it. I lack patience. I know, I should work on it. I hope this explains it all well enough!

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Before I get into a review, I must tell you a story about my reading of this book.

Last week, I ordered Let It Snow from Barnes and Noble. On Tuesday, I was thrilled to find it in my mailbox. Later that day, I sat down to begin reading. The characters had just entered Waffle House in the first story when a friend called, with an invitation to, you guessed it, Waffle House.

I threw deodorant, a toothbrush, and a change of clothes into my large purse, along with the book, because I planned to spend the night at her house, too. And then she picked me up, and we went to Waffle House, with me still thinking about the book.

The events of the next thirty or so hours, beginning with Waffle House and ending with a New Year’s party, allowed no time for reading. However, when I left the party, I also left my bag. Only two people were there before anyone noticed, one a good friend of mine. They opened the bag to see whose it was, pulled out a book, and my friend said, “That’s Jocelyn’s.”

Meanwhile, I was distraught. My mind was still in Let It Snow, but the book was nowhere near! I went to bed anxious.

Thursday morning, I left to meet my grandmother. We went to Target. I ran to the back, where the books are, and joy! Let It Snow was there. I grabbed the book and retreated to a shoe-trying-on bench to read.

After I read about a hundred pages, my grandmother was finally done shopping, and, since I already own the book, it would have been crazy to buy it. Sadly, I had to leave the book behind yet again, but it didn’t leave my mind.

Today (Friday), I convinced said grandmother to take me to the mall, where, yes, there is a bookstore! I convinced her to leave me in said bookstore for an hour until I finished the book, and I loved every second of it.

So you can see, my reading of this book was eventful, first interrupted by a visit to a Waffle House in Western North Carolina (and the book, incidentally, involves a Waffle House in Western North Carolina). I went to great lengths to finish this, my first completed book of 2009. And now, the review.

Let It Snow is three CHEER-filled holiday romances (to channel Maureen Johnson for a moment) by three talented authors. They all focus on different characters, but the setting is the same, and main characters in each story make appearances in the other two. The set up for all three is a blizzard on Christmas Eve that stops a train and traps people, and I believe Waffle House is also involved in all three stories (one more than the others) as well.

In the first story, by Maureen Johnson, Jubilee’s parents are crazy for the Flobie village, a collection of ceramic buildings with a holiday theme (you know what I mean). So crazy, in fact, that they get into a riot over an Elf Hotel and are arrested. As they don’t want Jubilee to spend Christmas alone, she’s put on a train to Florida, where her grandparents live…a train that stops in Western North Carolina due to the blizzard and isn’t expected to move anytime soon. Jubilee gets off and walks to a Waffle House, as do fifteen cheerleaders who are soon driving her crazy enough to leave Waffle House with a strange boy wearing plastic bags. He makes some insightful comments about her relationship with her perfectionist, always-busy boyfriend, Noah, and, well, you know what happens. Predictable, but absolutely hilarious, and I loved the characters. Maureen Johnson can always be counted on for hilarity and cheer! I loved it. I laughed out loud. In Target.

In the second story, by John Green, Keun is the cashier at the Waffle House full of cheerleaders, and when they arrive, he calls three of his friends to come oogle. Only problem is, one of these friends is a girl, and when the three of them make the eventful trek to Waffle House, two of the friends discover that their relationship is a little more complicated than they’d been previously willing to admit. I absolutely adored this story; it featured my favorite kind of absolutely crazy and hilarious adventure! Hilarious is a theme, huh?

In the third and final story, Lauren Myracle’s, Addie is in tears over her breakup with Jeb. She invited him to Starbucks (where she works) to talk things over, but he didn’t show…because, unknown to Addie, Jeb was also on the train that got stuck in the snow, and his phone broke, and he was also stranded at Waffle House. Also involved in this story is an early-morning shift at Starbucks, a teacup pig, and an epiphany of sorts for Addie. I loved this story, too (especially the teacup pig), but it was a tad less hilarious and CHEERtastic than the other two. It was awesome, just…slightly less awesome.

Between the first two stories, I can’t pick a favorite, but all three stories rock and are compulsively readable. As evidenced by my story, I had great difficulty putting this book down.  These three stories are full of CHEER and adventure and romance and hilariousness. They features characters that rock. Maureen Johnson and John Green are at their best here, which is certainly saying a lot, and Lauren Myracle’s story is nothing to scoff at, either. I highly recommend this book, at Christmastime or any other time of year.

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This year, I was on the nominating panel for the Cybils in the YA Fiction category. It was an amazing experience. I read some fantastic books, and I discussed them with some wonderful people. Discussing and debating books with intelligent people like my co-panelists makes me feel smarter, and it sharpens my brain, and I love it. It makes me really think about the merits and appeal of the books I’ve read, rather than simply, did I love it or not, which, when I’m not at my best, is what my critical skills are reduced to. I had to be on top of my game to defend books that I loved and reject books that I didn’t feel deserved a place on our short list. I had to think, and I love thinking! I love it when critical thinking is demanded of me. And I love the Cybils.  Even though the short list we came up with isn’t my personal short list, I was forced to rethink some of my choices, and to either back off or come out with stronger arguments than ever. I believe that if you can’t defend your position, you either need to rethink your position or rethink your reasoning, and the Cybils force me to do that with books. Have I mentioned how much I love that?

A shout out to my fellow panelists:

Leila Roy of  Bookshelves of Doom
Rebecca Laney of Becky’s Book Reviews
Amanda Snow of A Patchwork of Books
Trisha Murakami of The Ya Ya Yas
Kate Fall of Author2Author
Abby Johnson of Abby (the) Librarian

They all rock, and their blogs are awesome. Add them to your must-read list if you haven’t already!

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for–the finalists! Out of all the nominees, the YA fiction panel (me and those mentioned above) chose seven books that will go on to be read by the judges. The finalists are:

Check out the lists for all categories, including blurbs from the panelists about why particular books were chosen:

Easy Readers
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction MG/YA
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Poetry
Young Adult Fiction

I also wanted to mention a few favorites of mine that didn’t make our shortlist. I read a lot of great books for the Cybils, but these really stood out: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert, Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher, The Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti, The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith, Good Enough by Paula Yoo, How They Met, and Other Stories by David Levithan, and Everything You Want by Barbara Shoup. I loved a lot of the books on the list, though, and many are definitely worth reading.

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Now seems like an appropriate time to make this post, as Steph at Reviewer X just reviewed something relevent for Girl Week. She reviewed Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee here, and there’s a guest post from the author here (which is why this post is not totally unselfish; I’m also entering a contest here!). I haven’t read that particular book (I’m adding it to my wishlist!), but some of you may know that body image issues are of particular interest to me, and books about the subject, too, because I definitely don’t think anyone has to be skinny to be happy or healthy. I’m not skinny, and, honestly, there’s a thousand things I’d rather be seen as. I’d rather be smart or creative or kind or funny, or, well, you get the idea. 

Anyway, there are a lot of books about body image in general and weight more specifically. A lot of these books end with the main character losing weight, getting a boyfriend, and becoming popular and happy. 

This is not how it works in the real world, nor is it how it SHOULD work. 

It’s okay to be heavier or thinner or taller or shorter or WHATEVER than the “ideal” and imaginary pictures that we see in magazines. I want to read books that reflect that truth, to some degree, not books that say “lose weight and you’ll be happy!” Because you know what? It’s not that easy. If you’re unhappy, there’s a lot more than your WEIGHT at play there, and blaming your weight isn’t going to make you any happier. Figure out what the real problem is.

With that in mind, I’d like to recommend some books that deal with body image.

First up is North of Beautiful. Justina Chen Headley’s wonderful novel is about as far from an issue book as there is, but the main character has a port wine stain on half of her face, and that’s something she has to come to terms with. It’s one of many parts of this story, but it’s there. 

This Book Isn’t Fat, It’s Fabulous is lots of fun. It’s not particularly literary, and it’s far from perfect, but it sure is fun. Riley, the main character, is happy and confident and heavier than “ideal” (though she is by no means fat). She’s awesome.

All About Vee features another strong heroine who, despite having dreams of being a Hollywood actress, refuses to let society’s ridiculous ideas of perfection get in her way.

You might say that Violet in Private doesn’t fit here because it’s about a model, but it totally does. Violet is bashed by the modelling industry for gaining a few pounds, even when she’s still ridiculously skinny. It’s ridiculous! Models aren’t thin because they’re “perfect”; as this book shows, models are unhealthily skinny because the industry pressures them to BE unhealthy, thus pressuring ordinary girls to want to look like models and be unhealthy and unhappy as well. Don’t give in!

Big Fat Manifesto IS an issue book, but that’s not all it is. The main character here really IS fat, and, sadly, she starts out (and continues for quite some time) letting the numbers on the scale define her. However, in the course of the book, she really grows as a person (figuratively) and learns that weight loss isn’t necessarily the way to happiness, which rocks.

Looks is unique in that it deals with two weight extremes: being too skinny and being fat. It’s also a really eloquent, lyrical book, lovely to read.

Go Figure is one of my favorites. The heroine, Ryan, is insecure about her weight (and aren’t we all insecure about some part of ourselves?), but it does not dominate her at all. She’s smart and funny and talented and popular, and not skinny. She learns that self-acceptance is key to happiness–not that weight loss is key to happiness, and I love her and this book.

Another book with a heroine who, despite her insecurities, is way more than her weight, is Size 12 is Not Fat, the first in Meg Cabot’s series. It’s also far from an issue book (chick lit murder mystery is an apt description), and it’s so much fun! 

Princess Ben is one of the only (if not the only) fantasy books I’ve seen that touches on this topic. Despite the fact that she loses weight in her happy ending (hey, it’s a fairy tale), which annoys me, Ben isn’t particularly concerned with being skinny, and knows there’s a lot more to herself than that. A girl after my own heart! 

And on that note, the end of this post. I hope you enjoy some of these books, and don’t forget to stop by Girl Week!

Few people would argue that reading, in general, is bad for your mind. However, I have encountered some people who seem to think that the value of reading is lessened by the type of reading you’re doing. Fiction is apparently less worthwhile reading than non-fiction, and even in the world of reading fiction, adult fiction is often considered far more worthy of our time.

To which I say: ridiculous! I won’t go into why young adult fiction is great because there are plenty of others who have articulated that quite nicely. My point today is that we can learn a lot about the real world from fiction (no matter what the age of the intended audience is). This, of course, is not limited to the specifics that I want to point out; we can learn about anything in the real world from fiction. Fiction has often been a better teacher than all my years in school. It has given me ideas, knowledge, questions, and the means to find answers.

Fiction can teach us to think. It can teach us new ideas, and it can teach us to question what we have been taught. Not that it is wrong, but to question, which is vital. To accept something blindly keeps our minds weak; to open our eyes and question makes us strong. This is a lesson I have learned from fiction.

Fiction can teach us about how people interact, and how they think. People do all sorts of crazy things, and maybe we can’t walk up to them and ask them why, but, through reading stories about all kinds of people, we can try to figure it out ourselves. This sort of lesson is universal throughout fiction; we learn about people whether the book we are reading takes place at Hogwarts or in Sydney,  Australia. Even better, we learn about people whose backgrounds may differ from our own. We learn that we are all people, no matter where we come from.

Fiction can teach us about far-off places we don’t get the chance to experience for ourselves. I’ve never been to Miami, Florida, for example. However, I’ve read several great books with Miami as an integral part of the story, so I’d like to think I know something about it. Last year, I went to New York City for the first time. I’d never been there, but it was still, in a way, familiar; I’ve read countless books set in New York. I recognized things I’d never seen!

Fiction can teach us about history. Though I’ve taken several wonderful history courses, I’ve never had a class that went in-depth about the Holocaust and World War II (apparently, it’s never been important on the exam–don’t we love test-centered learning?). As awful as this part of history is, it is also important. It is important to understand what happened, to understand how awful it was, and to understand how it happened, so as to try to prevent history from repeating itself. Even though I never learned much about it at school, I know a lot about this period in history. Why? Because of the countless books I’ve read on it, most of them fiction (though, to be honest, some of it was non-fiction as well). Take any time period in history, and read some fiction set there; I guarantee you’ll learn loads.

Fiction can teach us to express ourselves. We learn by example, and the example here is to be able to write our thoughts, to be articulate and use language to its fullest extent. We can express our ideas, and communicate with other people. From reading, no matter what book, we learn new tricks of language, new vocabulary, or, if it’s poorly written, what not to do.

Fiction can teach us about possibilities. It teaches us to dream. Just because something has not happened to us does not mean it is out of reach. Fiction lets us touch these dreams, lets us hope they can become reality, and even lets them become like reality, if only for a few hours. I am sorry for anyone who does not read fiction because it is not “real;” I am sorry for anyone who has lost their imagination. 

I have books that I immensely enjoyed, and am in continuing awe of the skill of their authors. I have books that fall into only one of those two categories (I appreciate how well done they are, or I loved reading them). I have books that I think everyone should read because everyone will love them. I have books that I appreciate because of what they have to say about society. And so on.

This is why the question of “favorite” books is so difficult for me. I tend to mix it up, with books that I appreciate for different reasons. Today, I want to talk about another category: books that are personally, emotionally important to me for some reason or another. There are numerous books here, but today I want to talk about what I would say are, hands down, the most important books to me. And that would be the Harry Potter series.

It might sound silly, but these books have been with me since I was a small child. Whenever my gaze happens to fall on the bit of my bookshelves that holds the seven volumes (plus Quidditch Through The Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them), I am enormously sad that there will be no more (The Tales of Beedle The Bard‘s upcoming release does a bit to relieve that, though), but still happy in a nostalgic sort of way. To me, each book is not just linked to the wonderful stories inside, or to the characters that became friends (or dreadful enemies or incredible annoyances, depending on the character, the point is that they all became much more real to me than fictional characters)–these books are linked to parts of my life.

The first three books remind me of the part of my life when I first stepped out of my shell a bit. I was very intensely shy as a child, and the time when I first made friends (rather than my mother making them for me) was around the same part of my life that I first discovered the Harry Potter series through my third grade teacher. And what did my friends and I do? We talked about Harry Potter and pretended we went to Hogwarts! This time in my life was my first step towards independence, towards being my own person, in lots of ways that I didn’t even begin to realize then. But now, when I look at those books, I am reminded of it, and of who I was then.

And so on for books four through seven. These books mean a lot to me, as you can tell, to the point where, though I realize they’re far from perfect, and can even point out a few criticisms (one word: camping), I find it incredibly difficult to be objectively critical of the series. Except the epilogue, which was kind of awful.

What is it for you? The author or book or series that you love so much, for some reason or another, that it is simply above and beyond feelings for any other book?

This isn’t particularly relevant to teen books, but it is relevant to teens. We take standardized tests at least once a year, from the time we’re eight (in my state). Every senior in high school, myself included, stresses about their SAT scores. I got my scores back today, for the second and last time that I will take the SAT reasoning test. Now, I am a good test taker. I am pleased with my scores.* I don’t find the experience of taking a standardized test to be particularly torturous, though the SAT does happen too early for my taste on a Saturday morning.

Just so we’re clear: I’m not personally bitter about anything. But I hate standardized tests. I hate the whole principle of it. A good four years (at least) of my future is decided largely by one Saturday morning. Certainly, that’s not the only factor in college admissions. Just like the state test I take at the end of certain classes isn’t the only factor in my grade, but it is 1/4 of it. We decide major things based on a few hours. What if I was unwell that morning? What if there were sirens passing by the window and I was distracted by the noise? What if I have severe test anxiety but I’m super-smart? Then is it fair that my future is largely based on a few hours’ filling in bubbles?

No. It’s not fair to anyone. I understand that there must be ways to compare a student in California to a student in Iowa, really, I do. But I don’t think this is it. Test scores are so important to us, but there are a million things that can affect how well we do on standardized tests.

I don’t pretend to have the solution to this testing madness, or any power to change it, but I don’t like it.

*(My highest SAT scores are 780 on Critical Reading, 740 on Writing, and 700 on math, so you know I’m not just complaining–I’m perfectly happy with my scores).

Or, National Novel Writing Month. In case you haven’t heard of it, the month in question is November, and, every November, a whole bunch of writers all try to write a 50,000 word novel in the space of a month. Pretty impressive goal, no?

Well, I’ve never done it, and I’m seriously considering it this year, just because I’ve been in a major writing slump and maybe this is what I need to get me to actually, you know, write.

However, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea this November because I have a lot of stuff to do in the way of college applications. I’m having enough trouble keeping up with my life as it is!

Any of you participating this year? Have you in the past? How was the experience? Did you meet your goal?

It would appear that I am just full of things to share today, wouldn’t it?

The ALA Teens’ Top Ten have been announced. This list is voted on by over 8,000 teens, and the books that they’ve chosen are:

  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  4. Vampire Academy by Rachel Mead
  5. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  7. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  10. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

While I haven’t read all of these books, I think this list serves as a good example of popularity not equalling literary quality. I mean, really, Eclipse? I wasn’t surprised by this list, just a little disappointed in the taste of some of my fellow teens. Sure, I had fun reading Eclipse, but is it better than even some of the books further down this list (Extras, for example)? I think not.

Anyway, I also stumbled upon a website called TeenVoices. It seems to be kind of like Teen Ink, except less awesome. And only for girls. But, perhaps worth looking into. I enjoyed some of the articles.

Okay, so, yeah, Juno is a movie, not a book. But it’s a fantastic movie, and, well, a fantastic movie and a fantastic book have a lot in common. Great stories can be found on both screens and pages! This is my justification for talking about a movie on a book blog, but, in all honesty, I think it’s a movie that a lot of fans of YA books will love. As you probably know unless you live under a rock, Juno is a pregnant sixteen-year-old. She’s funny and smart and, like any sixteen-year-old, just working on figuring out the world and her place in it. I love the whole cast of characters here. The script is amazing, and the awesome actors really bring it to life. I love Ellen Page as Juno. And another YA connection: Michael Cera is Nick in the movie of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, a wonderful book written by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Anyway, the next paragraph contains spoilers. Just a warning, although most of you have probably already seen it. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? It’s out on DVD now!

The issue I wanted to bring up, though, is the fact that Juno is sixteen years old and pregnant, but this is not a “lesson” movie. To me, this was a positive. To a friend of mine (who is very religious, Southern, and socially conservative), this was a negative. He said it didn’t teach the horror of an unwanted pregnancy as a teenager. And, yes, Juno didn’t die or anything. She turned out okay, her life turned out okay, and her relationship turned out okay. She gave the baby to a woman who really wanted a baby. Not that being a pregnant sixteen-year-old was a picnic for her; far from it. But she got through it okay, and, to me, that is the best kind of lesson.

The message I got out of Juno, if I were to search for one? That everything will be okay, no matter how much your life may suck, you can get through it and be stronger for it. I don’t think that’s a message anyone would disagree with, and my friend conceded my point there. My question for you all: in a book or movie for teens, what does having a good “message” mean to you? What importance do you place on it, positive or negative? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts, because I, personally, am not a big fan of message-heavy stories, but apparently some people (like my friend) are, and in fact put the whole value of a story on whether or not it teaches the right message (he hadn’t even seen the movie).

This post was sparked by an interesting article about teenagers and the internet by Amy Goldwasser, for Salon, which you can read here.

We’ve all been told that  screens are rotting our brains. You’ve read about why I don’t think movies and television are at all brain-rotting, even the supposedly trashy TV shows. The same goes for the internet, but even more so!

Many kids and teens have limits on how long they can use the internet, or at least, their parents (like mine) think they spend too much time on the computer. They think we’re killing off brain cells, but the truth is so far from that!

And, yeah, okay, it’s possible to use the internet in brain-killing ways. You could play stupid games or watch crudely humorous Youtube videos for hours. But many of us don’t do that at all!

We read. We write. We communicate. We think. We learn. All in front of a computer screen.

Hard to believe for some of the adults in our lives, isn’t it? That some of us use proper English and research topics interesting to us (YA books, for one!) and write about things we’re passionate about (whether it be books or politics or music or just our lives) and communicate with our friends through text–surely this is better for literacy than talking on the phone being the primary means of communication!–and connect with people all over the world (a blessing for people who can’t fit in where they are physically).

My parents wrote far less than I did when they were teenagers. They didn’t have this canvas for free expression that I do,: the Internet. The internet enriches lives and minds; it doesn’t ruin them, anymore than older technologies do! I’m sure there were people who thought the printing press was an evil modern invention back in 1453 when the Gutenberg bible was first printed.  Nobody thinks books are brain-rotting anymore, and computers will come to be accepted, too.

I particularly like what Amy says about the internet freeing us from having to memorize trivial facts and freeing up our brains for deeper issues, and I think it’s right on. I did know the date of the Gutenberg bible without looking it up, but I don’t know, say, the dates Napoleon was in office. But, with a few keystrokes, I could have that information. What do I know? The effects Napoleon’s time in power had on Western Europe and the Americas. I know how that connects up until today. I know that nationalism as we know it today originated with the French revolution. I know that I believe nationalism will be the end of us. I understand history, even if I don’t know the dates that my parents were forced to memorize, because I have a teacher who understands that true understanding is far more important than trivial facts I could find out in seconds! I understand, I make connections, I have opinions.

Shouldn’t that apply to life in general, not just history? Shouldn’t the big ideas be more important than the trivia, especially when the trivia is so easily accessible?  Aren’t many in older generations just as resistant to this change as they are other changes–in music, in clothing, in whatever they choose to gripe about. The internet opens up an entire world that used to be inaccessible. It means I can practice my Spanish without leaving my desk chair–much cheaper than going to Spain–and connect with people who share my love of reading, and like the same books I do. The internet, if only we use it in the right way, enriches our lives, just like so many other things said to be rotting our brains.

We control ourselves and our lives. We say who we are, and if we say we are intelligent individuals and use technology to our advantage, then that advantage is huge.

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