Category Archives: science fiction

The Hunger Games Trilogy

Suzanne Collins, 2008-2010,

(1) Hunger Games, (2) Catching Fire, (3) Mockingjay

YA science fiction

Note to filmmakers: Please use the tagline “the revolution will be televised” and make these movies sleek, dark, gritty, and grimy—the cinematography and overall tone should be Blade Runner, not Tim Burton. In other words, notch up the realism and naturalism and tone down the surrealism and camp.

Note to talk show hosts: Please interview Suzanne Collins alongside former contestants of competition reality shows like Survivor or Biggest Loser. Ask them what it really feels like to be on camera all the time, how the camera (and the expectations of the viewers and show creators) shape how they present themselves, what kinds of personas they feel pigeon-holed into, and whether they have felt used or exploited. Then have Collins talk about Katniss’s behavior during the televised parts of the Hunger Games and, later, the Districts’ uprisings.

Note to teachers: Put the first book on a summer reading list and/or ask your librarian to facilitate a book group. But please do not teach it in the classroom; instead, teach about actual oppressive governments and real-life uprisings and revolutions. Keep teaching Fahrenheit 451 and Lord of the Flies. And keep teaching critical thinking and analytical skills related to media literacy and gender roles.

Note to YA authors: In our post-Harry Potter world, the doors are wide open—young readers will read longer books and producers and moviegoers are ready to spend. In our Twilight and True Blood cultural moment, it is smart for female protagonists to have two handsome love interests (are you on “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale”?). And it always helps to think ahead of time about the kids who will dress up as your characters for Halloween. Make sure you describe their costumes in great detail so the marketers can have them on the shelves in time.

OK, 24 hours later, I am thinking–dang, why am I so cynical? Clearly I have been engaged enough in this series to read the whole thing, and I have enjoyed these books. I like Katniss, and I also like Gale and Peeta. It’s just that the whole thing seems a little too movie and merchandising-ready. And for teachers, I think there are better books out there. Maybe that’s me being a literary snob rather than a YA enthusiast, but I’m still learning how to read YA. So there you have it.

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Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel

Mary Shelley; Script Adaptation: Jason Cobley, 2008

This is my first foray into a graphic version of a classic text, and I like it! I was a bit leery when I flipped through and saw the modern, stylized way the monster is drawn–the art is in classic comic book style, and this just did not match my imagination of what this monster, or his female version, should look like (rotting, mismatched body parts). But I pushed on, and I really enjoyed the reading experience. For me, this was a quick and satisfying way to encounter Shelley’s entire original plot, which I had forgotten major chunks of, along with key excerpts of her wonderful language.

The original Frankenstein story is so rich and fascinating, especially in the ways in which the monster haunts Dr. Frankenstein for months and years during his lonely existence in forests and caves. It is powerful to see the monster begin as a kind and gentle being who transforms over time into a brutally marginalized creature whose deep pain eventually becomes anger, resentment, and murderous violence. Personally, I will always prefer the full original text of this work, but I am also DYING to teach this story to high school students (along with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and this would be a great way to do it. A medical ethics unit has been on my mind all summer. . .

Classical Comics is a UK-based publisher that creates texts in three versions: Original text, which uses the author’s original language in excerpts on the page; Plain text, which converts each bubble of text into modern English and cuts down on the number of words; and Quick Text, which just puts the essential meaning of each text bubble into modern English–usually in one quick sentence. The artwork and pagination remain the same across all three versions, which makes these great teaching resources for classes in which students are reading at different levels, or just for examining two versions with the same students, akin to using No Fear Shakespeare.

The House of the Scorpion

Nancy Farmer, 2002, 380 pgs.

YA science fiction

A National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and a Printz Honor Award. Holy cow, there are so many awards on the cover that the reader runs the risk of setting his/her expectations too high. This is a big, sprawling, dystopian thriller—The Giver meets Harry Potter meets Holes meets Cormac McCarthy meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It takes place in the future on a strip of land on the Texas / Mexico border. Matteo Alacrán, also known as El Patrón, the drug lord over this opium estate, captures and computer chips people who attempt to cross the border so that they become zombie-like “eejit” slaves who will tend to his fields and manufacture his crop. The narrator is young Matt, El Patrón’s clone, who has been created to . . .(SPOILER ALERT). . .supply organs to the boss when his own fail.

Matt is scrappy and good, and gets into many epic adventures. People treat him badly, and he suffers much. He has a rag-tag group of “Lost Boys” who follow him as he escapes over the border into Mexico. He has a true love.

The northern Mexico of the future is called “Aztlán” here—is this not offensive to Chicano/a readers? Farmer, born in 1941, seems to be a white super-progressive Californian; is it okay for caucasian writers to use a place name that has such deep ancestral and spiritual roots for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans?

I found the book tedious. The world Farmer creates is not nearly as fascinating and rich as Harry Potter’s world, nor is the long-winded family saga as compelling as those of Marquez. The gritty borderland atmospherics cannot come close to McCarthy. But the pacing, characterization, and tenor is very similar to Holes, and I guess this is where I confess that I am not a lover of young adult fiction. I think I need to learn that this style of writing is quite fitting in terms of meeting the cognitive development and attentional needs of younger readers. It is just not my thing as an adult reader.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Mary E. Pearson, 2008, 265 pgs.

YA science fiction

In the not-so-distant future, seventeen-year-old Jenna wakes up from a year-long coma with all her memories gone. Her mom and dad will not talk about the accident that befell their “miracle child,” nor will they let her eat solid foods, leave the house, or go to school. Even her grandmother doesn’t seem to love her anymore. Jenna is dismayed by her condition and spends days watching childhood videos looking for clues about her former self. Her memories come back in fits and starts, and she begins asking her father hard questions. Before long, Jenna is revolted by the lengths her father and mother have gone to in order to save her destroyed body. This dystopian thriller will immerse high school students into issues of medical ethics as they discover along with Jenna the astonishing truth of her existence.