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Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading Paperback – July 21, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Launched from her regular feature column Fines Lines for Jezebel.com, this spastically composed, frequently hilarious omnibus of meditations on favorite YA novels dwells mostly among the old-school titles from the late '60s to the early '80s much beloved by now grown-up ladies. This was the era, notes the bibliomaniacal Skurnick in her brief introduction, when books for young girls moved from being wholesome and entertaining (e.g., The Secret Garden and the Nancy Drew series) to dealing with real-life, painful issues affecting adolescence as depicted by Beverly Cleary, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume, Madeleine L'Engle and Norma Klein. Skurnick groups her eruptive essays around themes, for example, books that feature a particularly memorable, fun or challenging narrator (e.g., Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy); girls on the verge, such as Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret or danger girls such as Duncan's Daughters of Eve; novels that deal with dying protagonists and other tragedies like child abuse (Willo Davis Roberts's Don't Hurt Laurie!); and, unavoidably, heroines gifted with a paranormal penchant, among other categories. Skurnick is particularly effective at spotlighting an undervalued classic (e.g., Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) and offers titles featuring troubled boys as well. Her suggestions will prove superhelpful (not to mention wildly entertaining) for educators, librarians and parents. (Aug.)
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frequently hilarious omnibus of meditations on favorite YA novels.... Her suggestions will prove superhelpful (not to mention wildly entertaining) for educators, librarians and parents. (Publishers Weekly)
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One thing to know about this book is that it's not about contemporary YA, although current readers might enjoy this look down memory lane. Skurnick is writing about teen classics by authors like Lois Duncan and Madeleine L'Engle, and about books that never belonged in the teen genre (Jean Auel? V.C. Andrews?) but were nevertheless popular with young readers. Not only did I enjoy reading about favorite books that I had forgotten about, but as a reading teacher, it was helpful to be reminded that controversial topics are hardly new to YA fiction.
While this book probably won't appeal to teens, it's essential reading for anyone who came of age with the Wakefield twins. If you don't know who the Wakefield twins are, then this probably isn't the book for you.
I'm going to try and encourage my book club to read this book, paired with some of the YA adult classics she talks about. I also wish so many of these books weren't out of print. Time to get away from the kindle and get to the library, I suppose!
Speaking of the kindle - the covers of the books she is writing about show up really well. I actually was pretty amazed at that bit of formatting. What is not good - you cannot really tell when the normal writing begins/ends and when places where she is quoting passages begin/end. It's a little annoying but not insurmountable.
Ha, what does a male reader do with a book whose very introduction is called "Getting my Period"? The author has been blogging about her old favorites for years, and she has recruited a number of prominent female writers to help her flesh out the world of YA literature. My favorite, Laura Lippman, begins her preface by alluding to her fondness for the "Beany Malone" novels of Lenora Mattingly Weber--that's cool, she's one of my top ten American writers (and thank goodness all of the Beany Malone books are back in print, courtesy of the high-end reprint house Image/Cascade).
Not everyone will enjoy Lizzie's own style which is heavy on the verbs and adjectives and really, really, into enthusiasm. She is continually trying to be amusing, and often succeeds, but I didn't really laugh at her allusions to the "fetish porn" of 19th century writing, the lengthy descriptions of the young heroine's costumes. It was OK, but she's reaching, however, what do I know. I'm only a guy. I came away from the book with a medium sized list of books that sort of sound good that I might look up, and then next I'll go to the Lenora Mattingly Weber website and offer to send my copy of Shelf Discovery to a deserving female reader. See ya!
Skurnick's reviews cover a very particular range of young adult fiction -- books for girls, most written in the '60's and '70's. The book is rounded out with additional essays by Meg Cabot, Cecily von Ziegesar and Jennifer Weiner among others. The chapters are loosely divided by theme such as; girls living in the wild, afterschool specials, girls with supernatural powers, etc. Reading this felt like the equivalent of picking up an old yearbook and reminiscing about friends.
At first, I wondered if Skurnick might be just a bit older than me. Classics like Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary (1963) seem just before my time. But as I dug in further, I realized that while I had read many of the novels she spotlights, a good number of these novels are exactly the kind of thing I would have avoided like the plague when I was a teen. It's what we call, "problem fiction" about girls coming of age, amidst much turmoil and stress. When I was that age, I wasn't looking for realistic fiction... I wasn't even looking for the juicy voyeuristic thrill of reading about girls who had it much worse than I had. I was looking for escape and adventure and high fantasy. So, Skurnick's explorations of fantasy classics like A Wrinkle in Time and hidden gems like The Girl with Silver Eyes were what resonated with me most.
Skurnick races through many of her reviews, with just a few pages each, adding her own thoughts and personal reactions to the works of Lois Duncan, Madeline L'Engle, Judy Blume, and others. She careens to a giddy finish featuring two (long) reviews of Jean Aeul's Clan of the Cave Bear that really felt like a bit much -- especially because each used the exact same pull quotes from the original novel, the scene where Ayla is raped. I would have liked an additional essay at the end, a postlude of sorts to cap off the book, which instead ends abruptly with a critique of Domestic Arrangements by Norma Klein.
Is this a book for today's teens? Probably not. But for librarians, teachers and especially women who grew up reading many of these books, this book will be a treat.
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family members, this will probably be right up your...Read more