Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chick Lit Cheerleader: The Land of Koalas

Introduction by Melissa Amster

I have a confession to make: I have read parts of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Dog Days) and laughed out loud. Okay. I feel much better now! (Then again, I also laugh out loud reading Amelia Bedelia books to my kids.) Along those lines, I also read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and loved it so much that I not only told my older son to read it, but also told our Chick Lit Cheerleader, Jen Tucker, to do the same! However, Jen is no stranger to books for young adults (or even kids), as she is also a mom of three. She's here today to talk about why we should NOT feel embarrassed to read YA books.

If You're Young at Heart...

I’m fond of sending books as gifts to friends.  Whether they’re in need of encouragement or inspiration, getting lost in words can speak volumes (pun totally intended).  My favorite book for friends going through difficulties is filled with brilliance, sage advice, and the narrator really hits the mark when it comes to describing bumps in the road of life.  Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day has moxie and grit.  I mean, who can’t relate to the desire run away and to move to Australia when the going gets tough, right?  Although I’ve added different genres to my eclectic reading list, I was moved this little boy and his do-over of a day as a child, and it’s stuck with me all these years.  

Three years ago, my son, Wil, was given a reading assignment.  His teacher sent out an email I wished hit my spam folder rather than my inbox.  Her class would be reading The Hunger Games.  I’d done a fantastic job up until that point avoiding the book.  My book worm buddies shared with me how much they loved this book and that I just had to read it.  My response?  “I just can’t read a book about children getting shipped off to fight to the death.  Nope!” 

Yet there I was, best mom ever, running to the bookstore to purchase a copy.  I read 150 pages the first night and couldn’t put it down.  This book did for me what I want all books to do.  Take me away to a world beyond the print on the page and make me feel invested in the life of the characters.  Daily, I looked forward to Wil coming home from school and talking about what they read in class.  Lively debates, animated agreements and great discussions flowed that would’ve never occurred if I hadn’t opened this book.  I crave stimulating conversations with my teens that move beyond, “Can we go to Taco Bell?” and, “Drop me off at the party and then you can just go, okay mom?  No offense.”

None taken.

If I hadn’t unlocked my stance to reading a book on my “No way, JosĂ©!” list, I would’ve missed out not only sharing the experience with my son, but also my personal introduction of the Young Adult (YA), or Teen genre.  I must’ve been living under a rock, right?  What’s funny is I had no clue while reading The Hunger Games it was categorized with the younger crowd in mind.  The only thoughts preying on my psyche while reading were, “Katniss, run from the Tracker Jackers!” and that I’m totally Team Gale. 

The Fault in Our Stars, written by fellow Indiana native, John Green, is another YA book that has crossed category boundaries.  I read it while flying home from California in January.  Do you know how hard it is not to sob uncontrollably on a plane?  It’s epically problematic and they should give gold medals for the accomplishment.  The story of two teenagers battling cancer while finding their place in this world with the time they have remaining hit me hard from several angles.  I saw it through the lens of a 43-year-old woman who remembered what it was like to be teenager with angst and love in her heart.  My other looking glass was that of a mother who cannot imagine the pains of watching her child suffer and battle a terminal illness.  I also saw this story through the eyes of someone who loves a warrior against cancer.  I’m a daughter whose father has courageously battled cancer for the past ten years.  Every day is a stolen moment with my dad.  Cancer sucks, my friends.  This book hit all the high and low notes I’ve felt in my life.       

If we define what we’re interested in reading by genre only, what stories would we miss out on experiencing?  Rather than discount a trilogy’s importance because it contains sparkling vampires (nothing but love for Stephanie Meyer), shouldn’t we instead revamp our thought to be one of gratitude that an author’s work is birthing legions of readers the perhaps lost the loving feeling somewhere into their journey to adulthood, or never had the zeal to read until Bella and Edward came along?  A study conducted in April of 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, states 32 million adults in the United States alone can't read.  21 percent of adults in America read below a 5th grade level. Lastly, 19 percent of high school graduates can't read while 63 percent of prison inmates are also illiterate.  When I read pieces by writers fired up that grownups should shun books spun for the teen crowd, I want to stop for a moment and scream we have bigger fish to flambĂ© when we see statistics like that, don’t you?

I recently asked via Facebook what people thought about reading books that are categorized as YA.  Many felt YA books tackle tough issues without the flamboyance adult fiction brings with it.  Some even said they loved reading books marketed to teens because although their carefree years might be a few decades behind them, they relate and feel maybe they find a tad of their teen self still roaming around in there somewhere. It gave many an opportunity to bond with children as I did with my son.  Pop culture even made it as a reason to jump in the pool. Yet there was one response that really stood out for me, and no, nepotism wasn’t the reason. My niece works as an oncology nurse at Riley Hospital for Children.  I remember when Lindsey was offered the job fresh from college.  Her excitement outweighed the fear of working with children who might die on her watch.  The heartbreak of losing a patient she played foosball with or watching parents spend final moments with their child felt like it might be too much for her sweet soul to bear.  Two years after her first day on the job, she cannot imagine doing anything else with her life.  Her fear replaced with devotion to her patients.  Her trepidation was nixed with confidence she’s been placed in the right field and love for everyone she cares for, including my little friend Eli battling brain cancer.  She has great days and heart wrenching days watching babies through teens fight to live.  Lindsey read The Fault in Our Stars because, in her words, “The subject matter hit close to home for me and I wanted to see how the book portrayed teenagers living with cancer…it received high praise from other…nurses and survivors.” In her eyes, it was spot on.

No matter what we choose to read, we’re choosing to read.  That’s the overarching point in my eyes.  If you stopped by my house today, you’d find my Kindle currently parked halfway through an anthology (shout out to my A Kind of Mad Courage fellow coauthors), and a Jodi Picoult short story.  On my night stand is a book on teens and the holocaust.  If I have a rough day, I’m going to reach for my favorite fiction like I always do.  The one with pictures of a little guy who desperately wants to relocate to the land of Koalas after a very bad day.    

Jen Tucker is the author of the funny and true stories, The Day I Wore My Panties Inside Out and The Day I Lost My Shaker of SaltIn September 2012, she had her children's book, Little Pumpkin published as an e-book. She also blogs monthly for Survival for Blondes. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband, three kids and two dogs. You can find her at TwitterFacebook, her blog and on her website. And in case you missed them. check out her previous Chick Lit Cheerleader posts here.

1 comment:

Samantha Stroh Bailey said...

A beautiful post, as always, Jen. Reading has got to be one of the greatest joys in this world, no matter what book you choose. Stories and characters are so personal, depending on what we need at that moment. You got it spot on.