Fictional People who are #SquadGoals

Romantic ships can be great, but I was delighted recently to see some book bloggers listing their favorite fictional groups of friends. (I think I first saw it on ForeverAndEverly? Can’t find the post now, though, naturally.) So I’m stealing the idea! Here are a few books featuring groups of friends that I love.

The Amateurs series by Sara Shepard — Seneca, Aerin, Maddox, and Madison are brave, complicated people fighting their own demons but also being there for each other. And solving mysteries.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling — Gotta love the Golden Trio! It’s not easy staying best friends when one of you is the Chosen One, one is a slightly neurotic brainiac, and one is just a steadfast pragmatist trying not to get an inferiority complex. Still, these three manage, and save the world at the same time.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan — Elliot, Luke, and Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle are an unlikely but surprisingly well-balanced and accepting trio who weather all kinds of challenges, from cultural misunderstandings to actual warfare to Elliot’s nonstop snark, which could honestly sink some friendships all by itself. And their banter is fantastic.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater — Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are all rough around the edges. (Except for Gansey, who is polished and shiny around the edges, like everywhere else.) They’re all wonderful in their own ways, but I actually like their friendship even more than I like most of them individually.

Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops manga by Neko Nekobyou — Rika, Keiko, Suguha, and Hiyori (and, by extension, their online avatars, who are the real stars in most of this manga) are sweet and supportive friends. I especially like how they defy stereotypes: they’re girls who game together and are equally likely to strategize over a mission or to squeal over a cute in-game outfit. Guess what? You can do both!

cover of Sword Art Online: Girls' Ops manga
Just some gal pals kicking butt and taking names, and also sometimes logging out and going to class.

This was kind of tough for me! I read a lot of YA, and friendships seem to take a backseat to romances in a lot of them. In some other books, there might be just one best friend (not a whole friend group), or conversely, the group might be too big for me to have a real sense of all the characters and their relationships. But while I didn’t come up with a lot of examples, the ones I did list are ones I love!

What fictional groups of friends do you like?

Edit: I found the post that inspired me to write this one! It’s this post on favorite couples, friendships, and squads in fiction from The Bookish Actress.

Here’s to a Shame-Free 2014!

. . . or at least, you know, low-shame. Let’s be realistic here.

Happy New Year! I’m all excited and energized about writerly things, and also about readery things. In particular, I am excited about the 2014 reading challenge I came up with. I’ve made a list of fifteen Books I’m Kind of Ashamed I Haven’t Read Already. And this year, I’m going to read them! Then I will NEVER AGAIN have to admit that I’m a Teen Services librarian who has read nothing by John Green. Or that, even though I suspect I’ll love it, I’ve never quite gotten around to Ender’s Game. Or look, my school never assigned The Giver, okay? I tried to keep it to books that I think I’ll actually enjoy. Different titles make the list for different reasons: it’s a classic, teens at my library devour it, I’ve heard a million times that it’s great, it’s something I’m obviously going to love and it’s absurd that I haven’t read it already.

It’s a pretty doable challenge, I think, and I’m psyched about it. My coworker Nori (of the book review blog Nori’s Closet) liked the idea, too, and ended up making her own list of embarrassing unreads to be finally read in 2014.

Want to see my list? (You know that’s a trick question on this blog, because you will always see the list.) Here, in alphabetical order but not necessarily reading order, are fifteen books that will soon no longer shame me with their unreadness!

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  4. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (This was the first one to go. I just finished it! And might have sprained a tear duct. WHY, JOHN GREEN, WHY?)
  7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  8. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  9. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  10. Matched by Ally Condie
  11. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  12. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
  13. Sabriel by Garth Nix (I loved his Keys to the Kingdom series)
  15. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Probability of crying while reading some of these books: high.
Probability of going, “Why didn’t I read this years ago?”: high.
Probability of being glad I read these books: skywriter high.

Anyone else want in? Or just want to share a book or two that you’re kind of embarrassed not to have read yet?

Goings-On! And Thesis!

It’s thesis time! By which I mean it is my last semester, and I’m having oodles of fun working on my thesis, which is a study to try and determine the most effective and popular way to shelve graphic novels in public libraries. I’m super-psyched about this project. It would seem my department likes it, too – they gave me an award for the best research proposal of the semester. Woo!

Several months ago, after meeting with the director of my hometown’s public library, I located all of the eighty-plus graphic novels in the building. They were scattered through the Juvenile Fiction and Juvenile Nonfiction, Teen Fiction and Teen Nonfiction, Adult Nonfiction, and even Science Fiction, sections. I took note of all of them and started recording how many times they checked out each month.

After getting three months’ circulation data, I have moved to Phase Two of the project: pulling all of the graphic novels to place in a separate section. They are now marked in the catalog as graphic novels, and green tape on their spines will hopefully get shelvers to return them to their new spot – here.

Another shot:

I will now see whether, and how, the circulation rates change. My hypothesis is that they will go up, as I suspect many patrons who like graphic novels simply didn’t realize the library had these.

The display on top could be a spurious factor, certainly, but I put it there for two reasons:

  1. It promotes the new section – and graphic novels! – for the library and its patrons, the interests of whom are at least as important as the pristine scientific nature of my study.
  2. I need it to display, and give IRB-required information on, the survey that I’m asking patrons to fill out about the new section. Hopefully, this will help to support the data I gather on circ rates by showing which shelving system patrons actually prefer.

Also, I worked hard on it.

All those middle-school posterboard projects finally pay off! Huzzah!

Good Points. Bonus: Funny!

Just a quick post to mention two things related to books and storytelling.

This blog post by author Neesha Meminger does a great job addressing what I feel to be an important issue: the way people of color are so often found just in stories that are about the struggle and strife they must face as a result of being people of color. What about fantasy, adventure, comedy, romance? These are not solely the domains of white (or straight, able-bodied, cisgender, probably attractive) people, and shouldn’t be shown that way in books. I won’t go on too much about it, though, as Ms. Meminger says it so well. I am totally adding her book Jazz in Love to my to-read list.

Relatedly, this video, referenced in Ms. Meminger’s post, features author Chimamanda Adichie speaking about the dangers of representing a group of people with “a single story.” It’s not only insightful but funny. And it’s just under twenty minutes. You totally have time to watch it.

A . . . Weighty Issue?

The Young Adult Library Services Association listserv, to which I subscribe, had an interesting round of discussion lately set off by this article, “YA Fatophobia”.

This all jumped out at me because there’d been some discussion a few months ago on YALSA about “fat pride.” It was the first time I’d heard the term, and I found it a bit problematic. I pretty much agree with one of the first YALSA responders to the “YA Fatophobia” article who, to paraphrase, says that she believes the focus should be on encouraging teens to be healthy, not to settle contentedly – let alone proudly – into habits that aren’t good for them. The YALSA poster says that she herself is overweight and that she’s long had weight issues connected less with genetics than with overeating and failing to exercise, and these are not behaviors she believes should be made okay for teens.

Let me say straight up that I’m aware that weight is often linked to genetics and that losing weight can be incredibly hard, and is harder for some people than others, which isn’t fair. Also, people are healthy at different weights. A teen can be a size 14 while having an active life and a nutritionally-balanced diet. It happens. But I don’t think this is the kind of overweight teen the article is discussing.

And the article makes some strong points. I agree that the covers of some of these books, like whitewashed covers on books with protagonists who are people of color, are shameful. If a publisher is willing to publish a book with a protagonist who is overweight, they should be willing to give it a cover that doesn’t feature a skinny model, or even an average-sized one. This kind of misrepresentation says that overweight people are taboo, that no one wants to see them, that even books that are about them have to pretend they’re not. And that’s a lot like bullying.

Naturally, I’m against bullying and shaming. Teens especially don’t need that from their books – as the article points out, they often turn to books in part to get away from the treatment they receive in real life. I certainly support the idea of books showing overweight teens as valuable people, with skills and friends and passions and all the things teens have, and not as fat jokes.

On the other hand, despite comparisons with whitewashed covers and with the treatment of characters in these other groups, being overweight, even with genetic components included, isn’t like being, say, queer, or a person of color, for two big reasons:

  1. It’s inherently a problem. Weighing significantly more (or less, of course, but I don’t think skinny characters have this problem in literature so much) than your healthy weight isn’t, well, healthy. It’s not something that’s a problem because ignorant, bigoted people might mess with you; it’s a problem because it increases your risk of heart problems, diabetes, and more. Because it can limit your ability to do and enjoy awesome things in life. And, yes, because jerky people might mess with you.
  2. There is an element of choice involved in whether a person stays that way.

I don’t mean to make light of the effort involved here. For teens, this can be an especially big problem, as they’re often not the ones making their own food and exercise decisions. I read an article last year by an eloquent boy who was, I believe, fourteen, and obese. He wanted to be healthier and to weigh less, but lived in an inner city and came from a family that could not afford a gym membership. After school, he came home to a house filled with fast-food takeout and, despite his requests for it, no produce. (His parents said fresh produce was too expensive and that the grocery stores that sold it were too far out of their way.)

What’s a young teen to do? He couldn’t drive and had no real source of income. Maybe he could start a low-cost exercise, like running, but then again, maybe his neighborhood isn’t safe, or he has to watch his siblings after school, or who knows what else. What I’m saying is that, for kids and teens, their weight may not always be something reasonably within their power to change. It shouldn’t, then, be treated as some kind of personal flaw, or even necessarily a life choice.

The article and the YALSA responders also say that overweight teens in YA fiction are often portrayed as binge eating, but without ever being diagnosed with an eating disorder, as if this is just something they do because they’re weak or disgusting. (Can you see an anorexic person being portrayed as someone who regularly makes him/herself throw up just because s/he’s weak and disgusting, with the disorder never being recognized over the course of a book?) Several YALSA listserv peeps who say they are overweight themselves were offended by the suggestion that people only get that way by snorking down boxes of Oreos in the dark. I don’t read a lot of realistic fiction, so I’ll take their collective word for it that these portrayals are overly frequent. I agree this is wrong. It fails to recognize what I suspect is the majority of problematically-overweight people, who simply have a diet that brings in a lot more calories than they’re burning off with physical activity.

While I’m not sure about books being what the article calls “fat-positive,” I would definitely agree that they should be fat-character-positive. From what I hear, some YA books are really doing pretty well at this already. The recent book The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, of which I’ve heard great things, features an overweight teen who solves a murder. He doesn’t glory in being overweight – my impression is that he’s a bit frustrated with it, but recognizes that unless he chooses to change his eating and exercise habits, it won’t change – but neither does he angst over it. It’s not what his story’s about.

If an overweight person doesn’t take steps toward healthier habits, it’s that person’s life, and no one has the right to harass him/her about it. But I don’t think books need to portray that as a totally fine choice with no possible consequences. Teens – like anyone – should be proud of who they are. They should be proud of their drawing ability, their loyalty to friends, their skill with the saxophone, their stamp collection, whatever. But I don’t think an unhealthy weight – whether come by through genetics, bingeing, or unwillingness to exercise – is something to be proud of.

Interesting . . .

Apparently there’s this guy, James Frey. Whose name I might have heard once or twice before. Who’s now doing . . . stuff . . . with YA books.

Specifically, Mr. Frey is gathering a stable of writers to write high-concept books in an attempt to produce the next commercially huge YA book phenomenon. The idea for one of these books can come from Mr. Frey or from the writer, but either way, in return for Mr. Frey’s contacts and support, these writers sign contracts that basically forfeit all of their rights to everything short of their DNA. They are then paid – get ready for it – $250 up front, and another $250 upon delivery of the book. They also get some percentage of all revenue minus expenses (with no audit or assurance that these numbers are actually based on anything). There’s another article here by a writer who almost joined this stable, chronicling his experiences.

In one incident in the second article, Mr. Frey tells the writer, while they are discussing a book concept, to think merchandising – in fact, to think Happy Meals.

Stables of writers working anonymously to create popular books are, of course, nothing new. (Nancy Drew, anyone?) Still, this level of commercialism astounds me. I’d almost be ready to shrug and say, “At least he’s honest about his intentions,” but honesty doesn’t make you immune from being a jerk. Naturally, no one forces writers to sign up for this endeavor, but the terms seem as contemptuous toward them as the whole enterprise seems toward, well, books.