Many of us have been subjected to reading at least one classical book in our lifetime. I remember reading “Animal Farm”, “Pride and Prejudice”, and “Jane Eyre” in high school. Some of us embraced these books with loving hands, while the others threw the books aside and sought Spark Notes. However, today’s teachers are noticing that literature classes do not have to be solely focused on the classics. They are now embracing newer literature for their students. It is not uncommon to see The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and The Kite Runner in a today’s curriculum. Many educators are discovering that modern day literature, including young adult novels, can successfully address complex and enlightening themes. Bonnie Ericson, author of Teaching Reading in High School English Classes, states “To limit our selection of novels, especially to the ‘classic’ novels, is to tell our students that all these other texts, perhaps the students’ preferred types of reading have less value.”
Looking for Alaska by John Green
This book is perpetually checked out from my library. Either patrons are seeking more John Green books or students are currently reading it for class. I placed my hold almost three months ago and had to check-out the audio, because the book still had not arrived.
Miles Halter’s life has been uneventful. Wanting some change and excitement in his life, he opts to attend his father’s alma mater, Culver Creek Boarding School, where he hopes to find greater meaning in his life. Upon his arrival, Miles receives the nickname of ‘Pudge’ and meets Alaska Young and Chip “The Colonel” Martin. He soon learns how to smoke pot, drink, and pull elaborate pranks. However, with one night, Pudge’s life is forever changed.
Everyone always discusses how amazing Looking for Alaska is for contemporary young adult literature. I guess there must be two camps, since I did not think the book was earth shattering. I found Pudge to be extremely whiny, and I was not emotionally attached or blown away by Alaska. Yes, I thought she was extremely smart, but I didn’t quite get her. I also didn’t see any deepness to her character. I did LOVE The Colonel. I wanted to be The Colonel’s friend. He was brilliant without the moodiness and seemed to understand life.
I became peeved when Pudge despaired and contemplated his relationship with Alaska. I did discuss my feelings and questions with a teen librarian and she pointed out that Alaska was one of those girls who is nice to everyone. Nice is translated into “she likes me” to a 16-year-old boy. Hence, Pudge’s attachment to Alaska. Put into this perspective, the characters’ actions and emotions made way more sense.
I do think that Green does a fantastic job of raising questions. I liked how he really never answers the big “why” question. I also LOVED the “masturbation” and speaker scene. I won’t go into detail, because I want the reader to experience them firsthand.
Overall, I do believe this is one of those books that readers need to create their own voices for the characters. The narrator was not necessarily bad; I think his voice diminished some of the larger parts of the book.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
When I finally finished The Catcher in the Rye, my first thought was, “Holden Caulfield needed some Xanax.” Well maybe not Xanax, but he needed something.
The only premise I got from the book was that Holden thought everyone around him was full of crap. What I took away from this book was that Holden was full of crap and didn’t see it. He gets expelled from boarding school and then decides to leave before his parents find out about his expulsion. He tramps through New York City and meets with people from his past and complete strangers before eventually “returning” back to his family.
Holden does attempt to address some deeper issues, but I just could not connect with his character. There are people who rave about how they connected with Holden’s angst. I wanted him to go get help. I think even 15-year-old me would have been like, “What is wrong with this kid?”
My opinion is that teachers probably could find a newer book that conveys teen angst with a much more likable character.
After reading these two books, I would be interested to see which book students gravitate towards more. It would also be interesting to do this experiment in a college setting to see if the students respond the same way.
Classic: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Noggin by John Corey Whaley
He’s alive!!! AGAIN!!!! Travis Coates died from cancer five years ago. Willing to take a chance on science, Travis agreed to allow doctors to decapitate his head and attempt to reattach it to a donor’s body. Although the procedure is successful, Travis must learn not only how to adjust to a new body, but to a life, including friends who are now five years older than him, that has moved on without him.
This is an absolute amazing book. Whaley has created a thought-provoking, enlightening, and hilarious book that will have readers wanting more. It is a modern-day loveable Frankenstein.
Classic: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
As the daughter of renowned scientist Dr. Moreau, Juliet Moreau had a comfortable life, until rumors of her father’s monstrous experiments reached the public’s ears. Now 16-years-old, Juliet is completely alone. Her father’s location unknown and her mother dead, Juliet fends for herself by working as a maid. However, when Montgomery, her father’s assistant and Juliet’s old childhood playmate, appears in London and knows the location of Julie’s father, Julie has the opportunity to face her father on his island of madness.
Classic: Romeo and Juliet
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
When Elisha and Jeremiah first meet, it is immediate attraction. However, Jeremiah is African-American and Elisha is Jewish. Fearing that their love will not be accepted, they keep it hidden from their families until it is too late.
A beautiful and simple retelling of Romeo and Juliet with modern day issues.
Classic: The Odyssey by Homer
New Retelling: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block
Classic: The Wizard of OZ
New Retelling: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige