In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Death, two ways

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I'm going to do something tonight that I don't usually do: recommend two books which I have not actually read.  Both fall under the category of edgy issues in YA books, though neither is focused on anorexia.  (I agree with you -- all novels about eating disorders, even those in which the protagonist is exceptionally damaged by the experience, make me worry that kids reading them will use them as blueprints to develop eating disorders of their own: a kind of anorexia porn.)

The first is an adult novel which can be read as YA: Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides.  It is, in fact, about suicide: the suicides, within a year, of five beautiful young daughters from the same family, as seen by the neighborhood boys who watch them.  A good friend and grad school colleague of mine used to teach this book at the beginning of her Women's Voices course, using it to engage HS students in questions of how societal forces shape our understanding of femininity, and how the girls involved are objectified by the boys, who don't really know them.  I read and loved Middlesex, Eugenides' lyrical, generational saga narrated from the point of view of a young hermaphrodite; I'd trust him to take on the issue of suicide.

The second is a proper YA novel that has taken my students by storm. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, is a girl-meets-boy story which takes place in a cancer support group.  (We've mentioned Green before in the context of gay YA.)

In recent weeks, I've seen a number of students carrying it around, and two (one HS freshman, one junior) chose to recommend it to the entire class as a Minutes gift.  Today I asked the freshman, Nicole, if she'd mind writing a few sentences about why she liked it so much.  She lit up like I'd given her a prize.  Here's what she wrote:

The Fault in Our Stars gives you a sarcastic, young cancer-ridden girl who has given up on life and gives you hope, along with an idealized, pretentious boy who pulls on your heartstrings.  I read it and just wanted to get up and make the world better and devote the rest of my measly life to making people happy.

A resounding endorsement!  Have you read either?

Love, Annie


  1. I can't wait to read The Fault in Our Stars. I'm going to recommend it to my adult book club. We've read YA before (The Hunger Games and The Book Thief) and we can do it again.

  2. I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars. Even though I was pretty much weeping for the entire second half of the book, I thought it was luminous.