Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Filling in the Gaps with Banned Books

Two of the banned books I read for the banned book challenge are also on my Fill in the Gaps list. And, one was on the list of doom, and one was one of Anita Silvey's 100 Best Books for Children: A Parent's Guide to Making the Right Choices for Your Young Reader, Toddler to Preteen.

I do love it when books count for multiple challenges!

Whale Talk Chris Crutcher

Ok, first things first. All the editions of this book I've seen feature a white guy, running. WHY?! The book is about a swim team, and narrated by a black/Japanese/white guy.

Anyway, TJ is adopted and has some anger issues and goes to a school where athletics are everything and the letter jacket is the holy grail. Various coaches are always on him to use his full potential to help bring glory to the school and join a team, but TJ's having none of it. Then, he decides to form a swim team, which gives all the misfits he can find a chance to earn their own letter jacket and stick it to the system that's been making their school lives hell.

I did not love this one nearly as much as I was told I would. I mean, it was good, but I just didn't click with it. Mainly, I wasn't a huge fan of TJ, and the story is entirely in his voice. He's just... too good. His main problem is that he doesn't like jerks in authority positions (which makes him even better to a teen audience!) and his anger issues (but he only gets mad at the bad guys, and only lashes out at people we see are bad people and deserve it, so it's totally ok!) His self-righteousness annoyed me.

But, I lettered in academics and choir (yes, seriously) so what do I know?

Julie of the Wolves Jean Craighead George

My mother has been trying to get me to read this one since I was 10. I've been resisting for a number of years now for two main reasons.

I really, really disliked the other Jean Craighead George book I've read, My Side of the Mountain.

I don't like survival stories in general. They're just not my thing.

But, I like my mom, and it's only of Silvey's 100 Best, so I thought I'd read it. Plus, it's often banned, so it fit with the challenge.

Miyax is 13 and has run away from her husband in Barrow, Alaska and is trying to get to Point Hope, where she can get a ship to San Fransisco, where she can go live with her penpal. She quickly gets lost on the North Slope and observes, then is adopted by, a wolf pack in order to survive. Along the way there's lots of information about wolf behavior (George spent lots of time observing wolves) and Miyax is torn between her traditional Native culture and the more modern, culture of the cities and lower 48 states.

First off, after reading this, I Google Maps'ed these cities to see where they are. HOLY CRAP! I mean, Barrow's up on the top of Alaska. Her journey is insane.

Anyway, I'm always wary of books written by outsiders to the culture they're writing about. George seems to have done a good job (but uses the word Eskimo instead of Inuit.) The issues of being torn between two cultures is good, but Miyax's view by the end of the book is very black-and-white. There's no gray areas, which bug me, but does match with a 13-year-old view's of the world. Although, the title is a blend of the cultures, as Julie is Miyax's English name, but her time with the wolves is spent in traditional clothing and living the traditional lifestyle she learned from her father.

But, when it boils down to it, Jennie doesn't like survival stories. I loved the descriptions of the landscape of the North Slope, but it was the flashback scenes of Miyax's life up until she ran away that I enjoyed.


M. Molly said...

Ack! I just read this! Jennie, HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE WHALE TALK??? It's the novel that changed my entire perception of what teen literature could look like. And TJ isn't too perfect -- he's like Harry Potter in his incessant need to save people, sometimes to his detriment. The deer thing? And the girl thing? And then the ENDING? Where it gets all super intense and scary and sad and wrenching and beautiful? HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE IT SO MUCH????

Jennie said...

I've been waiting for you to chime in Molly!

Anyway, this doesn't really change my idea of what Teen Lit can look like, because I've read so much other current teen lit, you know?

Also, I know TJ has issues, but all of his issues are "good" and justifiable, to the point where they're not really issues, because they become TJ's selling points.

Parts were heart breaking, but TJ just annoyed the crap out of me, in the same way Nancy Drew does.