In the wake of the Great Recession, 23 year old Brianna Karp finds herself unemployed and living in a trailer parked at the edge of an Anaheim Walmart. This is not where she pictured her life heading, but she still has her computer, her dog, and her wits, and she is determined to make it through. As a memoir, Karp’s story is ultimately a tale of perseverance, and positivity in the face of bad luck, bad circumstances, and yes, bad choices.
Karp describes her abusive childhood, and her life growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, with a dark humor that reminded me more than once of Augustan Burroughs (Running With Scissors). The Girl’s Guide chronicles the year or so that begins with getting laid off from her job as an executive assistant, and ends with her being offered a book deal. In the interrum she writes a blog about the experience of being “homeless, not hopeless”, utilizing the power of social media to create a network of support and friends. Out of this network grows an online romance with Matt, from Scotland, another blogger and advocate to the homeless cause.
I enjoyed The Girl’s Guide, but with a few misgivings. As Karp’s description of her relationship with Matt spins sickeningly out of control, I began to question the melodrama. While I am certain Karp has had a very difficult life, I am also certain that the validity of her story should be considered with a grain of salt. Remember that memoirs are based in memories, and those are rarely as reliable as we think. I was far more interested in The Girl’s Guide as a fascinating description of the power of social media. Karp blogs, tweets, and Gchats her way from obscurity to the the Today Show.
Some books are more valuable for the conversations they start than for the content of the story, or quality of writing. The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness has the power to spark important conversations about homelessness, life-changing choices, and the kindness of strangers. For that alone I recommend giving it a look.
*When I requested this book from NetGalley, it was labeled as Young Adult. As an educator, I would say that this book is very Adult. Because of language, violence, and sexual content, I consider it inappropriate for readers under 16 years old.
Last night, on a whim before going to bed, I checked my Twitter feed. A series of tweets between authors Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson) and Libba Bray (@libbabray) caught my attention, and I took a closer look. A BIG mistake for someone planning to go to bed at a decent hour! I happily jumped down the rabbit hole, read the Wall Street Journal review in question (Darkness Too Visible, by Meghan Cox Gurdon), and joined the #YAsaves discussion, which by then had risen with all the speed and intensity of a summer squall.
In the review, Gurdon criticizes to dark and tragic state of young adult fiction these days. She begins the article with a description of a mother who couldn’t find a single book in her local bookstore’s YA section, to give her 13 year old daughter. YA authors, readers, and fans closed ranks, and in a matter of minutes (literally, the hashtag #YAsaves was trending within 20 minutes!) created a web of personal stories and declarations on how YA has saved them. I’d like to add my voice to the masses.
I love YA because I wish more than anything that these books had been around when I needed them most. I am lucky. Because my parents divorced when I was a baby, I grew up in two fairly normal families. My family isn’t perfect, we have plenty of problems, but I grew up without abuse and surrounded by love. I know this isn’t true for many.
The summer after I turned 19 my younger stepsister, Brooke, was killed in a car accident, and a few months later a friend I’d grown up with was killed by her ex-boyfriend who then killed himself. My relatively happy world crashed down around me, and then crashed again. I felt like no one around me could possibly know how I was feeling. I felt like I should “get over it” faster, or pretend to be ok, because my sadness made my friends irritable and tired. I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore, like I had become a different person overnight, and this new girl in my body was unpredictable and miserable.
In the past few years I have read YA novels like Looking for Alaska (John Green),Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver), 13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher), and If I Stay (Gayle Forman) and I wish I could send them to my 19 year-old self. I want her to read them and feel less alone. I want her to read them and feel strong enough to get the help she needs. I don’t know if the years following The Accident would have been better if I’d had these books around me. I do think that I would have handled myself and the people around me better if I’d had them. Reading them now, ten years later, has helped me gain new perspective, and heal.
Bad things happen, bad people happen, and teens are exposed to the darkness in the world whether we want them to be or not. YA fiction and it’s darkness and violence, helps teens process, examine, empathize with, and heal from the dark things that surround them. It helps parents understand their children and the world they live in. It gives voice to those who are too scared, ashamed, or hurt to speak for themselves.
Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, by Maureen McGowen
Life is hard for Lucette (aka Sleeping Beauty). The curse placed on her by the evil vampire queen Natasha makes is so she can only be awake at night, while the rest of the kingdom magically sleeps. She is having trouble choosing between the cute boy who taught her to be a slayer, and her best friend who is, in fact, a vampire. Her parents are getting a divorce. And to top it all off, her over-protective father insists on keeping her in a glass coffin all day so that her suitors can watch her sleep. After all, she needs to find true love to break the curse.
If that sounds a little creepy to you, you’re not alone. As I read Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, I was often struck by the absurdity of certain plot points, and the strange, vaguely abusive, lengths to which her father would go in order to protect her from the curse. It felt at time like the author was contorting the story into odd shapes in an effort to include elements of the original fairy tale. I am in favor of adapting the old fairy tales for young audiences, and I am a huge fan of the Pride & Prejudice and Zombies genre. While Vampire Slayer is a clever idea, it felt stretched and shallow.
I wanted to like Vampire Slayer because it is part of the growing wave of choose-your-own-adventure novels recently making a comeback. Unfortunately, all eight of the paths the reader can choose to take will lead to the same conclusion. When I read a choose-your-own-adventure I like at least one or two of my choices to lead to funny surprises or untimely ends. I think McGowen underestimates her readers a little. She gives too many transparent hints and explains too many plot twists. That said, because the writing has that high/low quality (high interest/low level) this book will be a good choice for struggling or reluctant readers. Vampire Slayer, and the other books still to come in the series (Cinderella: Ninja Warrior) are going to do well with the tween girls who love princess. And one must admire a book in which the damsel in distress escapes from her glass case at night to kick a little vampire butt.
I began this blog last fall with the noble intention to devote it to my love of the printed word, in whatever form it takes. But, good intentions only go so far, and my poor little blog grew dusty and unused. Today I told myself “no more!”, and I make a pledge to post at least once a week, starting today!
As a (soon-to-be) newly minted school librarian, I spend an absurd amount of time reading young adult (YA) fiction, usually dystopias, full of angst and misunderstood young love. Perhaps the greatest discovery I’ve made this year is NetGalley, a web site which provides free, advanced reader copies (ARCs) of upcoming books, in digital form. NetGalley is feeding my book addiction very well, and I wish to repay the favor. I will use my rejuvenated blog to review the books I get from NetGalley. Of course, I will on occasion reblog posts from other literary minds, interesting tidbits about upcoming books, book related technology (like e-readers) and generally bookish things. Perhaps even the occasional movie review (The Hunger Games movie is just now being cast!).
Okay, now that my apology and pledge are out of the way - there is a lot of reading to be done!