Category Archives: Literature

These are our comparisons and reviews on different books we have studied and read.

Seventeenth Summer

Angie Morrow is fairly quiet and keeps to herself.  In Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly the reader gets a glimpse into the summer before she leaves to college.  It is a period of many firsts for her.  She falls in love, and finds an identity.  In the end she asserts her independence as she goes off to college.

I read this when I was fifteen and had no idea that it was written in 1942.  It is a story that is relatable even today.  It is also fascinating to me that Daly wrote this novel as she was in college.  I love this story every time I read it, and it is fun to discuss with others who have read it as well.  There is always a differing of opinions on the ending.

Abby Greulich

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Robinson Crusoe and The Hatchet

I re-read Gary Paulsen’s The Hatchet for the first time since junior high and I was surprised to learn that the essence of the story is similar to Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The Hatchet was published in 1987 and follows the story of 13 year old Brian Robeson who is stranded in the Canadian wilderness following a small plane crash that killed the pilot. Armed with only a hatchet given to him by his mother, Brian must survive in the wild alone. Dafoe’s Crusoe is an adventurer and travels the world by boat. It was when he is left shipwrecked and stranded on an unknown island that he is left to survive.

Both are considered to be adventure novels that detail the means of survival but the interesting twist is that both character must not only survive physically but mentally as well. Brian must come to grips with who he has become following his parents divorce. Crusoe must come to grips with the sins he has committed in his past in order to survive. Both struggles are not only physical but spiritual. There spiritual struggles are displayed in vivid flashbacks that haunt both characters. Brian thinks back to how his parents split and the time spent with each of them. Although these flashbacks cause him emotional pain, they also provide key elements that help him physically survive. Crusoe is visited by an angel that tells him to repent for his sins and because of this he finds the emotional drive to continue onward to live.

The Hatchet displays a teenage boys rite of passage and his struggles as he grows to become more mature and self aware. The hatchet given to him by his mother is the catalyst. It represents the sharp emotional pain Brian felt during the divorce and he keeps it close for survival. In Crusoe’s tale repentance is required in order for Crusoe to master his situation. Both stories seem to have one thing in common, both characters must come to grips with their past and reach a sort of nirvana in order to continue to grow. They must be okay with who they were, who they are now and strive to become a realized person in the future. Both tales are about finding inner light in the vastness of the wilderness.

As a teacher I would draw these comparisons for my students to help them understand Crusoe’s character. I would introduce Brian’s character as someone they can identify with and how his struggles are similar to Crusoe even though he is only thirteen. To inspire my students to become active readers and readers for the future I think providing similar stories with characters they can relate to is key. I want my students to be able to read Robinson Crusoe with the understanding that Crusoe situation is very plausible and that Brian Robeson went through a similar situation. This is how he overcomes his obstacles. Learning these themes can provide a foundation for my students to learn valuable life lessons.

Robinson Crusoe can be found in its entirety here.

For information about author Gary Paulsen visit here. A 2010 interview with Paulsen can be found here.

For more information about the film adaption of The Hatchet visit here.

– Brian

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What Makes Jake Great?

My literature class my sophomore year of high school left a lasting impression on me. The class was so dry I vowed that when I became a teacher I would never teach books in this format. One of the books I read for class was the Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was a struggle to read this book because I always thought it had a slow moving plot that was drenched in drama. I felt like I couldn’t identify with any of the characters in the story and I did not fully understand the metaphors and similes being used throughout the novel. It didn’t help the situation when my teacher gave our class daily quizzes testing us over the details of the readings. Now that I am older and can appreciate Fitzgerald’s work I catch myself thinking back to that class. There had to be a way I could identify with this novel as a student to better understand it. Enter Gordon Korman’s Jake, Reinvented.

Jake, Reinvented is an edgy take on The Great Gatsby that takes place in a high school setting. Characters from Fitzgerald’s work like Daisy and Jay are replaced by young teenage characters Jake and Didi. Instead of taking place in a socialite area code in New York during the roaring 20’s, Jake, Reinvented takes place in a contemporary high school setting. Although there are some differences in the eras these two stories take place in the core of the story and the over arching themes remain constant. Both have to deal with misguided morals and outer beauty vs. inner ugliness.

What better way to teach these themes to students than to pair it with something tangible; something they can relate to. Most of us can relate to labels in high school and the social hierarchy established by the status quo. We heard the labels before you know, jocks, the band geeks, the nerds, the drama queens and the preps and most of know where these labels fit in the social hierarchy. There are versions of these labels in The Great Gatsby that people in the 20’s may have all to familiar with.

That being said there are some differences. The Great Gatsby is a tougher read because it is chalked full of metaphor, simile and lyric. Some of the comparisons may not make sense to the average high student at first glance. Jake, Reinvented tosses out the complex metaphor and substitutes it with a series of experiences to form something more practical students can relate to. Another huge difference besides the lyrical language is the voice of each. The Great Gatsby uses active voice placing the reader within the novel. He uses words that fit the situation such as lurches and spilled to describe events at a party where alcohol is involved. This type of language implies carelessness and sluggishness characteristics of someone who may have drank a little to much. Fitzgerald uses these words in active voice to place the reader side by side with the main character in this world. Korman places the reader in his story by using past tense. As a reader, this past tense language triggers memories and I am then able to relate to the characters.

Keeping these in mind I would, like the author, try to place my students in the 20’s maybe by starting class with important excerpts from Jake, Reinvented then ask my students to travel back to the 20’s and read the Fitzgerald’s take on Korman’s described events. I would maybe start the class with popular music from the 20’s to set the mood or display brief history timelines to help my students better understand how life was like in the 20’s.

The Great Gatsby in its entirety can be accessed for free by clicking here.

PBS has a brief overview of the life F. Scott Fitzgerald and that can be accessed here.

The Great Gatsby will be reiterated in the 2012 motion picture. More information on the director and actors attached can be found here.

Francis Ford Coppola, responsible for The Godfather, wrote the screen play for the 1974 film adaption of The Great Gatsby featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. More information on this movie can be found by clicking here.

Gordon Korman’s official website can be accessed by clicking here.

– Brian

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A Clockwork Orange

I’ll be the first to admit that A Clockwork Orange is a strange book. The first time I came across this title was when I watched Stanley Kubrick’s film adaption when I was in high school. Then I clearly remember my literature teacher at the time mentioning this book by Anthony Burgess. I’ve read this book now three times and upon completion I am always able to walk away with something new. A new concept or idea that I was not able to develop before. This book is right around 50 years old and is filled with satire and symbolism. A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962 by Burgess during the height of the Cold War. The book was then adapted into a movie in 1971 featuring Malcolm McDowell as the main character, Alex.

The book takes place in the future and is told through the perspective of 15 year old Alex. The first thing the reader will notice is the strange language the characters speak. This language, Nadsat, is something original developed by Burgess and is a mix between Russian, English, American Slang, and rhymes and slant rhymes. The story opens with Alex and his droogs (gang) compromised of three individuals, Dim, Pete, and Georgie drinking at the local bar. When they leave a strange string of events begin to happen that will make the reader despise these characters. Alex leads his gang to commit a series of heinous and violent attacks toward unsuspecting citizens. There is no motive or reason behind the attacks, the gang just does it for fun. After robbing a large house, Alex is knocked out by one of his friends and is left for the police. Alex is then sentenced to 14 years in a state penitentiary. To avoid serving the whole sentence Alex agrees to take part in Ludovico’s Technique. This program is based on psychologist B.F. Skinner’s experiment in the mid twentieth century. The idea of the experiment is to condition human behavior by handing out rewards for good behavior and serving a punishment for bad behavior. For two weeks Alex is injected with a drug that makes him sick to his stomach. After the injection, Alex is forced to watch scenes of violent acts with Beethoven playing in the background. Alex’s mind is making a connection between his sickness and violent acts. Because he gets sick when he sees these heinous acts Alex develops an aversion to both Beethoven and acts of violence. When Alex’s free will is stripped of him as a result of this experiment he is released from prison. Turned away by his friends and family and forced to live on the streets with the very people that Alex harassed, reformed Alex must find a way to survive.

This book is very different from young adult literature. Burgess writes in a very confusing dialect that speaks to the government and society’s ideals. He incorporates satire in the meanings of the words he develops on a level not found in young adult literature. This book is also filled with symbolism. The book is contains three parts that detail Alex’s coming of age and make up a 21 chapter book. The number 21 is interesting because in industrial societies such as America, Great Britain and Russia citizens are considered a mature adult at 21. Burgess states that “duality is the ulitmate reality” in this novel. The novel focuses on youth vs. maturity, good vs. evil, commitment vs. neutrality to name a few. This novel is exposes human free will as an inherent attribute that makes us human and separates us from lower animals or machines. Alex chose wickedness in this novel; the author intended him to be evil. Later in the novel after Alex undergoes the behavioral experiment, he is forced to be a hero which he is not cut out to be. Alex is robbed of his free will by the state.

So why did I read this book? I read this for the same reason I read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Growing up Batman was my literary hero and I spenthours reading about him and when I was little I even dressed up like him for Halloween. I was astounded by Christopher Nolan’s take on the film franchise that seemed to ground Batman in reality and make the audience members believe that these characters can exist in a real world setting. When The Dark Knight was in post production there was a 2007 MTV interview released with Heath Ledger before he passed away. The interviewer asked Heath how he researched his role for the Joker and if Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 film version of Batman was a blueprint. Heath then went on to explain that his Joker was very different and anarchy motivated his character. Heath explained that his Joker was the one that should of been in the comics all along. Heath used Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious as an influence on the character. He also drew upon Alex from The Clockwork Orange to influence his take on the character to make him darker and more sinister. Heath went on to win a posthumous Oscar Award for his performance in The Dark Knight. Although The Dark Knight had some serious themes and jumped around in plot, it was still a PG13 movie and appealed to both adults and young adults alike. Heath’s Joker was based on a character from classic literature and was brought to life on the silver screen to appeal to a multitude of audience members. It was this notion that attracted me to read A Clockwork Orange.

To read the MTV interview with Heath Ledger on his role as the Joker click here.

To learn more about the 1971 Stanley Kubrick take on A Clockwork Orange you can find it here. To watch the trailer for the movie click here.

Here is a 1973 controversial interview with a young Malcolm McDowell on his role of Alex in A Clockwork Orange by clicking here. Here is another interview with McDowell in 2008, click here to view it.

You can learn more about author Anthony Burgess by clicking here.

– Brian

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Growing up I surrounded myself by comic books. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, X-men you name it I had it. I had material from some of the greatest writers of the genre such as Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison to name a few of my favorites. Learning to draw at a young age, I was first attracted to the art that graced each panel. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore was one series that drew my attention to the classics at a relatively young age.

Alan Moore did something unique in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He took pop culture characters from the turn of the century culture such as the Invisible Man, Allan Quartermain, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and incorporated them into a story arch where these characters provide service for the British Government. When the 2003 movie came out I realized that it was an original story that featured Dorian Gray, who was never present in the comic series. Seeing his complex character on the silver screen gravitated me towards Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The story is set in Victorian London and centers around Dorian Gray and his influences in his life. The two characters that seem to have immense influence over Dorian is artist Basil Hallward and Lord Henryy Wotton. Basil is Dorian’s cautious friend who is obsessed with Gray’s youthfulness and beauty. He is also in charge of painting Dorian’s portrait. Wotton is a friend of Basil’s and an acquaintance of Dorian’s. Over the course of the story Wotton reveals to Dorian the darker side of society. Wotton’s lifestyle and half baked philosophies rub off on Dorian throughout the course of the novel. Over time Wotton becomes a sort of mentor to Dorian and reveals to him the darker side of human nature. Dorian and Wotton enjoy lavish parties and explore acts of lust and greed. Despite Basil’s warnings to stay away from Wotton, Dorian further blotches his soul by pursuing his own insatiable pleasures manipulating anyone that stands in his way. Dorian is essentially abusing his gift of beauty and by doing so he is cursed to stay youthful forever. But little does Dorian know that pursuing vices instead of virtue takes a toll on his soul. His physical appearance may stay constant but his soul ages and is damaged by these vices. Basil’s portrait is a glimpse into Dorian’s ugly soul and it ages. The portrait becomes dark and twisted in the place of Dorian. What would happen if he should confront this painting? What would happen if he is allowed to reflect on his misdeeds?

The Picture of Dorian Gray was by no means an easy read and is complex when comparing it to young adult novels. Wilde uses different styles of writing that may not be present in the young adult genre. The story was published by Wilde in 1891 and draws influences from multiple myths such as the fall of man in Genesis or the ancient Greek parable of Narcissus. Wilde also seems to draw influence from plays such as the classic telling of Faust. Wilde also seems to draw inspiration from Shakespeare and Socrates. Understanding the philosophy and themes behind these works of art can help the reader understand Dorian as a character. Understanding a basic outline of these works the reader can truly find out what makes Dorian tick. Seeing all of these influences the reader is able to establish what Wilde did differently in this novel and how it relates to his influences. For example, Faust tells the story of an established scholar who trades his soul with the Devil for a life of fortune and fame. Although the devil is not present in Wilde’s novel, Wotton stands in as a negative force of influence that introduces Dorian to the vice filled life of a corrupt socialite. One such style Wilde uses is epigrams, the story is full of them. Epigrams are short thoughtful statements in prose or verse form. A good portion of epigrams found in Wilde’s novel are developed by Lord Wotton. Wotton’s epigrams seem to play on the meaning of words to create a comic relief or a type of sarcasm.

The underlying themes of Dorian Gray are very mature and may not exist in young adult novels. There has been controversy surrounding Basil’s devotion to Dorian. Some believe that Basil’s fixation and need to see Dorian everyday is a symbol for homoerotic love. Other’s believe that Dorian is a source of inspiration for Basil to become a better artist. Descriptions of Dorian seem to be very detailed and extravagant throughout the novel and Basil may believe that by harnessing his beauty in art form may help him achieve an ultimate status as an artist. Another theme could be indulging of the senses. Dorian and Wotton live extravagant lives similar the characters in F. Scotts Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Wotton would have Dorian and the reader believe that seeking worldly pleasures and living life to the fullest is better then worrying about morals and ethics. I think it all boils down to moderation. Moderation should be the ultimate goal for humanity and something everyone should struggle to achieve. Wotton and Dorian did not live life in moderation and it led to the destruction of their souls in this novel. Wilde’s influences are etched in this theme of this novel.

Make no mistake this novel by Oscar Wilde does not belong in a young adult genre. But I think the appeal of Dorian and the struggles he goes through makes him a character readers can relate to and someone the reader loves to hate because he represents the extreme. Someone who completely gives in to a life of vice. I think that today this character is displayed in our pop culture one way or another. Movies were made about this character stretching back to the early 1900’s. Hollywood is trying to integrate Wilde’s character and the lessons this novel teaches the reader in our culture.  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen both in print and film appeal to a younger teenage audience to an adult audience. Both of these forms drew me to this classic. This is the kind of effect pop culture and reiterations of classics can have on someone and provides a strong argument for the support of young adult literature.

To access the complete novel through project Gutenberg for free click here.

For information regarding the latest 2009 film adaption of The Picture of Dorian Gray featuring Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin and Ben Barnes click here. The theatrical trailer for this movie can be found here.

– Brian

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The Amulet of Samarkand

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud is a fantasy.  It is the first book in a trilogy about a London that is run by wizards.  The book follows a boy named Nathaniel who is an eleven-year-old wizard.  The wizards in this book have no power themselves, but summon demons to do the work for them.  What is interesting is the relationships between the wizards and the demons.  The demons are basically slaves and are forced to do whatever the wizards demand of them.

Nathaniel is something of an oddity to the wizards in the book.  Young wizards are made by taking them from their parents and placing as apprentices to older magicians.  They are treated with a distance as they are not even called by their names.  Nathaniel does not let his circumstances stop him from learning and teaching himself to be a powerful wizard.

I personally responded well to how the book was written.  Stroud uses footnotes that explain the story and are full of sarcasm.  I had not seen this in a work of fiction and it turned out to be extremely entertaining.  The chapters alternate between Nathaniel’s point-of-view and Bartimaeus who is the demon Nathaniel is controlling.

Anyone going into the series thinking it will be another Harry Potter will not find many similarities at all.  The books are certainly entertaining and are being made into movies in England.  Click here for Jonathan Stroud’s website for information on his other books, and what he is up to.

Abby Greulich

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The China Garden

If your students have gotten into the idea of reading young adult literature and are looking for another book with some

The China Garden

mystery in it, I would recommend The China Garden. Though the book is geared towards women but the mystery element, along with historical incorporations, could trigger a male teen as well.

The China Garden, written by author Liz Berry, is set in England where the main character Clare has to make major life changes about going to University and her career at the end of high school. Only there’s a twist. Her mother has a secret that she has been keeping from Clare in order to protect her from the life she never wanted her daughter to have, a life she herself was able to be spared from. Through ancient ruins and old legends, Clare will discover who she really is and the great destiny that was always hers. Not only that, but she will find love along the way while also discovering her mothers secret past that has lead Clare into the arms of Mark.

The entire plot of this book has considerable twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing and striving to find out what happens next. Though there is a warning for any teachers who own and lend out the book; there is an explicit scene, though not entirely graphic, where Clare does have relations with Mark that are not exactly PG. Therefore, be aware of this scene or explain to those who read it that there is chapter worth being cautious of.

Nonetheless, this is a great book with mysteries that keep the reader guessing till the end. It is also very well written and styled as though the reader is Clare herself and attempting to figure out the next clue to her secret life.

Audra

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