Monday, November 23, 2009

I fulfilled my awkwardness quota today.

For today's Cybil nominee Nonfiction Monday Roundup, I give you books about teens, by teens. Teens telling their own stories to other teens, some more successfully than others.

I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure Ed. Smith Magazine

I Can't Keep My Own Secrets is a collection of six-word memoirs from real teens. The cover says "famous and obscure" but only 5 pages out of 182 (16 memoirs) are by famous teens. The rest are "obscure." There's bound to be someone every reader will recognize in this book, as well as someone with a completely different experience, as the range is so wide. Some of these teens are what we would define as "regular," some aren't. There are celibates and teen moms, academic superstars and dropouts, teens from happy homes and sad ones. The memoirs are silly, they're deep, they're flippant, they capture something bigger, they made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me so glad I'm no longer that age, and they made me miss high school. The book manages to really capture the range of American experience, the range of the teen experience, and all the while being a read that teens will love.

Some of the ones that caught my eye as I was reading:

Would be a slut, given a chance.

Lost my virginity, it was fantastic.

I need out of Ohio. Bad.

Family night is secretly my favorite.

We are banned from Wal-Mart forever.

We're the family you gossip about.

Model and sci-fi geek. Gotta problem?!

Started forgetting about life before Katrina.

Holden caught me in the rye.

Afraid I'm crazy, Bell Jar style.

I don't rock. Guitar Hero lies.

Too many colors, hair now brittle.

Virgin is not a dirty word.

And, my favorite one, and the one that I most relate to, even as an adult:

I fulfilled my awkwardness quota today.

Book Provided by... my local library

Episodes: My Life as I See It Blaze Ginsburg

Blaze Ginsburg is a highly functioning autistic teenager. In his autobiography, he's structured his life as if it were a multiple series of television shows. Some series have multiple seasons, some are holiday specials, and some are mini-series. The chronology can be a bit confusing, as the series often overlap in time. "My Freshman Year of High School 1" runs from September-December 2002, with the second season running from January-June 2003. Meanwhile, we have the Thanksgiving Special 2002 and then the series "Blaze, Courtney, and Amber" which overlaps and runs from December 2002-June 2003. The setting of life events as TV episodes, while an interesting idea, really separates the readers from the action, giving us a very brief glimpse at this guy's day-to-day life. I wanted more depth. The book was too much style and not enough substance for my tastes. While it was interesting to see why he reacts in the ways he reacts, you know he's not the most reliable of narrators and there are things going on around him that he's missing.

Most distressing is how his lack of social skills and obsessive nature combine when it comes to girls. Blaze, like most teen guys, wants a girlfriend. Sadly, the way his mind works, he sees every girl as a potential girlfriend. If they already have a boyfriend, he takes this as a personal slight and then "hates" them. This pattern is also repeated with his celebrity crushes. Luckily, Blaze is surrounded by people who care for him and try to temper these reactions and tell them it's not ok. However, as you're reading through Blaze's voice, after awhile, it just gets creepy.

An interesting book, but more as a first-hand document looking at how an autistic mind works than as a pleasurable read about one boy's struggles to succeed.

Book Provided by... borrowed from another Cybils committee member.

Chelsey Chelsey Shannon

This is part of Health Communications, Inc. new series, Louder Than Words, which gets teen girls to write their own life stories.

Chelsey's mother died from cancer when she was in first grade. When Chelsey was in junior high, her father was murdered during an attempted robbery. Her story is follows her as she deals with her grief and tries to find her identity as a bi-racial orphan, being raised by her aunt.

Chelsey's voice is strong and measured, but she also includes some of her writing that was written in the immediate aftermath of her father's death. Several of her poems are sprinkled throughout the text. The poetry, and the aftermath writing, sound like they were written by a junior high/high school student. They're not great in the grand scale of things. And just so there's no confusion, I LOVE that. I love that she writes like a gifted teen. Too often "teen" poetry reads like an adult trying to write like a teen, or a teen trying to write like an adult. Chelsey is a gifted writer, but still coming into her own in her craft. Chelsey studies Creative Writing at the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts and you can see her grow as a writer from those early day to the text of the book. She also really uses writing to help process her grief. She also explores her religion and spirituality, eventually turning away from the Catholicism she was raised in and becomes an atheist. It's a long process of self-examination that was very interesting to read about.

I think teens will really like this new series.

Book Provided By... the publisher for Cybils consideration.

Emily Emily Smucker

Another Louder Than Words entry. Emily's always been sick on and off, dealing with some severe food allergies (she's allergic to chicken! and apples! and lots of other things!) so she's annoyed and not happy, but not overly concerned when she starts getting sick (again) summer before her senior year. The thing is, she doesn't get better. She just keeps getting weaker and weaker. Eventually, she's diagnosed with West Nile virus.

You can tell that this book is mostly based on the blog Emily writes. A lot of the sections jump randomly from topic to topic in every paragraph, much the way a normal teen MySpace/Xanga/Facebook entry would. It's a little odd in the book context, but it also helps give a sense of who Emily is as a person and how's she's dealing (or not) with her illness.

One thing that really struck me is her anger. Emily is Mennonite and lives in a deeply religious community and is deeply committed to her faith. (But she doesn't talk about God as much as you'd think she would. At one point she says she feel like she should talk about Him more because He is such a big part, but "why does it feel like it would cheapen an unbelievably beautiful relationship if I blabbered on and on about Him?" I'm really fine-tuned to religion in books these days, and that sentence really struck me.) She keeps expecting that if God gave her this disease, He'll also give her the grace to handle it, and He doesn't. She's angry and feels cheated, while still trying to find a way to make it better and to live her day-to-day life. As she says at one point, "I always believed before this sickness that God would never give me more than I could handle. But then I realized during this time that the big flaw in that is we can handle anything if we're not given a choice. We think there are things we can't handle... we'd just go crazy. But if something is handed to you, you just get through it if you think you can or not, because going crazy is a lot harder than it sounds."

I have some friends who have things going on in their lives where I wonder how they can handle them. Emily's words finally clicked something into my brain on that. It's not easy, but you just get through it, because what other options do you have?

Emily may sound pessimistic, but the book does end on a good note. I appreciated the candidness of how she describes her struggles and I think a lot of teens will, too.

Book Provided By... the publisher for Cybils consideration.

Nonfiction Monday round up is over at Practically Paradise. Be sure to swing by and check out the other offerings!

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Anonymous said...

sounds like you missed it big time on the emily smucker book. that last qoute was one of enlightenment. it basically says she realized that no matter what happens God does give the power to handle it. and that he had given her the power to do so without her realizing it.

Jennie said...

I think that you may be right as to how Emily feels by the end of the book, but the quotation is NOT one of enlightenment. When she says that, she does not feel that "He had given her the power to do so without her realizing it." Which is really obvious if you read everything she says before and after the paragraph I quoted (it's 2 pages long, so I can't quote it all here.)

I really admire how deep Emily's faith is, even when she's struggling, wondering why these things are happening to her. And the frankness with which she describes her frustration was really moving, especially because she never lost her faith.