One of the books I read this summer was the much acclaimed, Newbery Honor book Wonder which I would like to share my impressions of, but I would also like to use that as a springboard into a discussion about book awards*. I highly recommend reading this short post over on Crossreferencing by Mark about the Morris and the Excellence in NonFiction awards. Not only is it funny, it touches on a lot of my thoughts about awards.
First Wonder. From GoodReads: August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
It was a very enjoyable book. The story was sweet and very middle grade appropriate. But it felt, to me, like the author was trying very hard to make a bullying/tolerance book not feel like a bullying/tolerance book. Auggie was a great kid, but he was too perfect for the role. His family was just a bit too perfect and up to the challenge of raising a child with great needs. (Also they must have a ton of money because keeping him home and sending him to expensive tutors and eventually prep school couldn’t have been cheap. Not to mention the medical bills. I wonder if having a family that simply struggled more financially would have made for a more authentic and interesting story?) The kids at school felt strangely like tropes- the free-spirt non-judgmental girl who didn’t take a second look at Auggie’s deformity, the kid too easily swayed by his peers, the mean kid who has equally mean, insensitive parents, etc. Maybe these complaints are typical of middle grade novels, but the more quality middle grade I read, the less I think so. Wonder was not the Newbery winner, but bullying and tolerance are hot, hot topics right now and I wonder if they weren’t so hot would Wonder have garnered the same attention it has. As I said, it’s a good book, but I’m not convinced it was a great book or even one of the greatest books of last year.
More often than not I scratch my head over the book award winners. I suppose they are trying to find books with broad appeal, but I think that can get in the way of selecting a winner. They also often feel like they are following trends or pushing an agenda (as with Wonder and bullying). Sometimes I feel like award committees have chosen pretentious books that are not all that good and wouldn’t really appeal to their target audiences, but adults seem to like them and/or feel they are necessary for kids to read. The Excellence in Nonfiction Award has nominated a book about the Kennedy assassination this year (The President Has Been Shot by James Swanson), but the Kennedy assassination doesn’t have the same significance even to people my age, let alone current middle and high schoolers. I’m sure there are kids who are interested, but they are probably a lot more interested in the World War II titles that were nominated.
On the flip side, awards can draw the attention of adults who put books in kids hands to books that are well done but about topics kids might not pick up on their own. I’m thinking specifically here about drawing the attention of teachers who might find books like The Milk of Birds, In Darkness, Never Fall Down, and The Good Braider and use them in their classes (I discussed this a bit here). Sure these books could fall into the category of adults-think-you-must-read-this, but they are so wonderfully written and do work for their target audiences I think some of that is negated.
And maybe this is where my arguments and thoughts about awards are wrong. Maybe awards are simply for the best books of that year. Maybe they aren’t intended to take into account popularity, interest, and target audience. Maybe I need to be scratching my head over why they don’t take these things into consideration and whether they are worth taking into consideration. Who are the award lists for, the target audiences of YA, MG, and children’s literature or for the adults who curate and select that literature for students, children, and patrons?
Ultimately I wonder, should I be reading through the awards lists? Do I read the nominees, the honors and winner, or just the winners? Do kids pay attention to these lists and/or actually read these books and, more importantly, enjoy them? I honestly don’t know. I would like to use them as a convenient way to beef up my list of books I could recommend and my backlist I can draw from. But if kids don’t read them and don’t like them, it isn’t worth the time. Does anyone out there have thoughts or ideas? I am very curious to know. Mark’s thoughts, that aren’t exactly glowing recommendations for the awards lists, are the first I’ve heard expressed in that vein.
*When I say “book awards” I am primarily referring to the awards given out by ALA and most specifically by YALSA and ALSC.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Dec 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
This summer I picked up two books that featured refugees from the Southern Sudanese conflict. The Good Braider is a novel in verse about Viola’s escape from South Sudan to the United States. While her life should in theory be better is is wrought with the trauma of what she lived through and the difficulty of finding a place in a new culture. The Milk of Birds is a correspondence between K.C., a girl from the US, and Nawra, a Sudanese girl who is living in a refugee camp.
Both books really shed light on a conflict that, despite Angelina Jolie’s best efforts, is not well known in the United States. When I reviewed In Darkness and Never Fall Down I talked about how important I think it is that kids have an awareness of what life is like for people who live outside the Western world and the first world. The question for me, though, is how do you get kids to read these books. All four are beautifully written with incredible stories, but how do you sell a book that is so tragic? They feel like books that a special kid would pick up, an already interested and compassionate student. While it’s great for those kids to read these books, I want others to read them too.
I could certainly see reading any of these four books in an English and/or History class. That would certainly broaden the audience…assuming the students actually read their assigned novels. In fact reading the books across disciplines and discussing both the writing, the novel format, the story, and then the history would be very powerful. But…but. How many teachers will use current YA literature in their classes? It’s not a classic so why read it in school? I don’t have an answer to this conundrum (if you do please share!). I’m simply thinking out loud here. I just really wish these beautiful, terrible novels had a bigger audience.
As a side note, while I enjoyed both The Good Braider and The Milk of Birds immensely, I thought The Milk of Birds fell a bit flat with K.C. I haven’t read a lot of books with two narrators, especially narrators that are so different, so maybe this how two-narrator books work. K.C. was a bit flighty and sounded so modern. This was compounded by the more formal tone of Nawra’s letters that alternated chapters. At one point I thought it might have worked better to not include K.C., but after finishing the book I think it wouldn’t have been as powerful. I think the fact that she has her own issues is really important. Although she has champagne problems, they are still relatable and they are still issues. Nawra, despite her incredibly difficult situation, never once belittles K.C.’s problems. She understands that they are just as real to K.C. as her own are to her. K.C.’s voice was also incredibly authentic. She sounded exactly the way I would have sounded if I were writing letters at that age. I think as an adult reading this book I was just left wanting a more mature narrator to complement Nawra. Especially since Nawra was so wise and mature beyond her years. In the end the book was so well written it didn’t matter that K.C. wasn’t the narrator I wanted.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Nov 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
On this blog I try to keep a separation between my professional development and my personal life, but back in October I attended two conferences (CUE and Internet Librarian) that brought some of my personal research into play. Over the past 6 or more months I’ve been really researching alternative educational philosophies and options for my daughter’s education. I know it’s a little early, but our public school system is abysmal and our private schools are less than impressive. The more I read about these philosophies (primarily Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf) the more I agree with their underlying principles of student-led learning, teacher as mentor or co-learner, the incorporation of art and creativity, an emphasis on imaginative play (which is almost totally gone even from our local private schools), and a mixture of “subjects” that include more practical activities like cooking, cleaning, and developing hobbies.
I know libraries continue to see budget and staff cuts and keep having to do more with less. The new popularity of makerspaces and the insistence of some that they be part of libraries doesn’t help that situation. Neither does the fact that they feel a bit like some hipster fad. I can totally see how they aren’t right for many libraries and would be downright impossible for others to pull off. But I also think they’re a really important opportunity, especially for school libraries, to help curiosity, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking. Three of the sessions I attended at my conferences focused on makerspaces and I found myself very inspired by them, largely because the idea dovetails so nicely with the educational philosophy I have found myself drawn to in researching for my daughter.
So what exactly is a makerspace and what happens there? A makerspace is just any space that has been designated for free creating that is open to either the public, or, in the case of stand-alone makerspaces, people who pay a membership fee. Oftentimes it will be a place that has equipment that you would not have at home because it is large, expensive, or specialized, like CNC machines or letter presses (although I have to admit we own one of those) or 3D printers. They tend to be spaces that encourage people to collaborate, bounce ideas off one another, and teach each other. Some makerspaces aren’t permanent, they “pop up” when a cart of materials is wheeled out into an open room. They can be large, they can be small, they can be medium. Some makerspaces have a specific focus for the types of projects created there, like printing (again with the letter presses!), others simply provide an open flexible space and a variety of classes (like the University of Nevada, Reno’s Science and Technology library that has whiteboard walls and offers classes from lock picking to Nerf nights themed around zombies and science). Making doesn’t have to be complex or expensive and any age can do it. Think toddlers with blocks, school kids with a bunch of cardboard boxes and some tape, and high schoolers with some wood scraps and a few basic tools. All making is, is creative thinking and imaginative play. It also frequently taps into STEM (another buzzword) and STEAM. Kids building with blocks to explore architecture. Kids using Minecraft to build in a virtual world. Kids creating art to express what they are learning about biology or math. Kids learning how a camera works by taking one apart and experimenting with one. Kids writing a play and making costumes to share what they have learned about a historical figure or event. Making can be cooking, baking, or brewing.
To me, the most important piece of making and makerspaces is that it emphasizes process over product. I think far too often in school, and even the work place, the product is more important than how a student got there. Even though that process can be incredibly enlightening. I would rather a student made a mistake and turned out a less-than-perfect product, but learned from the mistakes and made adjustments later than produced something perfectly the first time and was able to simply move on without much reflection. Product is obviously important, but it isn’t the end all and be all that our educational system makes it out to be. Makerspaces provide a great opportunity for students (and people) by giving them a space where it’s okay to fail and try again.
Makerspaces also provide a place where students can direct their own learning and follow their own interests. So much of our schooling focuses around a pre-set curriculum that requires learning facts that someone else has deemed important. Sure there’s value in what we learn in school, but, at least for my daughter, I would be happier if she learns how to learn (metalearning), learns where and how to research when she has a question and learns to love learning than learns a list of historical dates. That doesn’t usually happen when someone else is telling you what to learn, what questions to ask and to answer. A makerspace allows students to explore what it is they want to explore. They learn to ask questions and then set about answering them without someone telling them how. And, again, they learn how to fail and what to do when that happens. They learn to play and have fun learning. They learn to be creative and flexible thinkers.
All of this isn’t to say that because makerspaces are great I think libraries need to become makerspaces, nor do I think all libraries should create a makerspace. You need to know your institutional culture, your time constraints, your space limitations, and your budget. It’s important to note, though, makerspaces don’t have to be large or expensive (bring in some rolls of masking tape and a stack of newspapers or save large cardboard boxes and see what a group of kids can do). They don’t have to require loads of extra staffing (roll out the materials during a lull). Certainly a lot of what makerspaces stand for and encourage are tenets of libraries. I know where ever I end up when I am back in the workforce I will certainly consider creating a makerspace.
To go along with this post I would like to create post with a list of makerspace resources for anyone interested in learning more. My hope it to compile that over the next week, but I can’t be sure it will happen especially with the holiday coming up. At any rate, when it is up I will put a link in this post to it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
First Impressions: All right, this one has been sitting on my TBR pile for years now and based on what the person who recommended it said and the blurb here, I was expecting a bit more of a plot twist/reveal at the end. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed to predict the ending to some extent, but my expectations set me up to be really wowed and I wasn’t especially.
That Being Said: Sometimes I think graphic novels can be a bit light on story and character development and you can breeze through them. American Born Chinese was neither, and although it was a quick read, it was still thought provoking.
On the surface the novel deals with the struggles of Jin Wang, Danny, and the Monkey King. All of them are in denial about who they are. They all also share the burden of straddling two cultures and feeling the need or desire to choose one over the other. But I think it goes beyond the conflict of Chinese and American, monkey and god. It’s a story about finding who you are and embracing that person, something that is a universal struggle for, well, everyone. You don’t need to be grappling with feeling like an outsider because of your culture or race or citizenship to appreciate the characters. To me, the power of the story was in its message that it’s okay to be different and uncomfortable with that and that it’s okay to come to terms with your differences, be they cultural or otherwise.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Love is awkward, Amelia should know.
From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.
Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?
I wasn’t totally bowled over by this book, but I really enjoyed it. I guess it wasn’t as swoony as I thought it would be, but I think because it wasn’t it felt more authentic.
What I found really fascinating about this book was the fact that it felt like both a YA novel and a NA novel. Amelia is definitely young and in love and her story is very much the story of a young adult. But the book alternates between Amelia’s narration and Chris’s journals. Chris is struggling with much more “adult” problems.
Personally, I connected more with his story than with Amelia which speaks to my getting older, not the quality or appeal of the book. Chris just had his heart broken. He isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. His friends are growing up and getting jobs, houses, moving in with their significant others. He and Amelia are clearly good for each other and, age aside, would make a great couple, but they are in such different places in their lives. I think these struggles are pretty universal for 20 somethings, at least they have been in my circle of friends, including age differences making relationships difficult (although not quite to this extent!).
Even though I am not the target audience, I can see this story connecting with my high school self. I wasn’t especially interested in boys my age, like Amelia, and would have found someone as fun and interesting as Chris very appealing. Being naive and inexperienced as Amelia is, I also would have not understood how problematic a relationship would have been. All in all, a fun and interesting read even if it wasn’t my favorite I’ve read for The Hub Challenge. This would make a fabulous summer read.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 03, Jun 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
In honor of summer and all the (terrible) summer blockbusters that will soon be storming the local cineplex, I wanted to talk about movies. And books. Movies and books. As a librarian and reader I love books, but I frequently hear that “the book is always better” or “you thought that was a good movie, you should read the book”. I’ve seen some pretty abysmal adaptations of some amazing books, but I’ve also seen some really amazing adaptations. I hate to write off film adaptations based on a few bad movies, so all of this started me wondering, is the book always better? And just because the book is good does that preclude a good movie? And, why are we so loathe to see film versions of our favorite books?
Film is, in and of itself, a very powerful medium. It can tell beautiful, incredible stories. Case in point: Wall-E. Pixar told an incredibly poignant, touching story with almost no dialog. I walked out of that movie with my mind blown. So, I don’t think the medium of film is ill suited to telling great stories like we find in books.
Books and film are, however, very different mediums. Plot devices, narrations, and character insights that are possible in books are not always possible in movies. But the challenges of creating a good adaptation can be handled well by a good director, someone with a good eye, a good vision and a reverence for the source material. In the most recent version of Jane Eyre the screen writer began a ways into the story and then backtracked, condensing a good 125 pages of pretty boring content. I absolutely adore the novel and have read it many times, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the majority of those events on screen just as they were written. The two methods worked perfectly for their mediums. All of which I think points to the fact that the book doesn’t have to be better nor does a story being first written as a book preclude a really good film. And what about taking mediocre books and making them into great movies?
But, why do we hate movie adaptations? I think when you read a book your mind constructs the world and characters around you. It becomes a secret, private place to retreat in our minds. Having a filmmaker impose their vision of the world and characters can feel very intrusive and rude. That other person’s vision can also push out your own. As you read, you picture the characters and the events, but those memories can be disturbed by the bombast of a movie.
Of course what will appeal to you in a movie depends very much on your personal preferences. Like with reading, the “goodness” of a movie is pretty subjective. I personally prefer arty, cerebral movies over the more popular rom-coms that show up at the cineplex in droves. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just that I prefer one over the other. If a director creates a film that doesn’t fit with your preferred movie style, then it’s going to be a lot harder to accept it as a good version of the book. If Michael Bey had directed Jane Eyre I don’t think I would have even bothered to see it.
The thing is, I don’t think we should write off movie adaptations. A lot of times they bring people to the book or to read alikes and series. And that’s never a bad thing. I think it can also provide an entry point for people into literature. Just as a final thought, I think we sometimes get caught up in worrying about too much screen time and forget that movies can be incredibly powerful and worthwhile.
What about you? Any books you want to see made into a movie? Any favorite adaptations? Any adaptations you hated?
My List of Movies
In my experience movie adaptations fall into one of four categories: movie is better, movie and book are equal, book is better and book and movie are just different.
Movie and Book are Equal
- Jane Eyre (most recent version)
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- True Grit
Book is Better
- okay, none come to mind but we know they are out there lurking
Movie is Better
- The Painted Veil (I liked the movie ending better, it was a little more redeeming)
- The Whale Rider (I thought the characters were a lot more complex and more interesting in the movie)
- Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into the books!)
- Watchmen (there were some scenes in this one that really came alive for me in the movie in a way they didn’t in the book)
Some are just different
- The Woman in White (as much as I loved the book, I thought the choices for the movie made for a good story too)
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 29, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When soldiers arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever. Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children, weak from hunger, malaria, or sheer exhaustion, dying before his eyes. He sees prisoners marched to a nearby mango grove, never to return. And he learns to be invisible to the sadistic Khmer Rouge, who can give or take away life on a whim.
One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers. In order to survive, he must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand–and steal food to keep the other kids alive. This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated from the Khmer Rouge, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.
I almost put this one down at the beginning. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and yet so tragic. Ever since I became a mother, and I’m sure this is true for many women, I have a really difficult time reading about atrocities that befall children. Never Fall Down is full of those atrocities. However, I feel it’s really important to know that these things do happen so that we can prevent them from happening again (although I don’t think we, as humans, do a very good job of that).
One thing I really dislike about my high school education was that the history I learned didn’t focus enough on other cultures or on modern times (post-WWII). A lot of really awful things (and interesting and important events) have happened in the past 50-60 years and yet I had no idea until I stumbled upon them on my own (Cambodia’s civil war, the Biafran War, etc.). I think having read about them earlier would have made me more humble, more sensitive, more grateful for what I had, and better rounded. I also think I would have engaged more with current events. Never Fall Down gave me a much greater appreciation for Cambodia knowing that they have emerged from such an oppressive and cruel regime.
I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it’s still an important book. Arn’s story is absolutely heart breaking and shouldn’t be lost. It’s also a very powerful story of the ability of someone so young to survive and come through things that it would seem you can’t live through. And his power to accept and forgive and find beauty and purpose after such a unimaginable horror is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 27, May 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I came across an interesting editorial by way of Kelly at Stacked Books. In it The Horn Book‘s editor-in-chief suggested that maybe it was time to stop reviewing young adult novels. You can read the piece here, it’s pretty short, but I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about some of the things he said. I didn’t necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but I didn’t really agree either.
What struck me about this piece was a possible argument for labeling books as New Adult, which I talked a bit about in this post. My understanding is that he is suggesting children’s and youth review publications, like The Horn Book, stop reviewing YA novels, the stuff intended for 12 and up or maybe 14 and up. He makes the point that YA is read by a lot of adults and there is a lot of it out there. Sure, if it makes your job easier and it’s still labeled as YA so it’s easy for teen librarians to find, I think that’s reasonable.
Sutton notes that, as the years have passed, the age ranges have been shifting upward and the content is becoming more mature. He even receives requests to review books that are labeled as adult for The Horn Book, but points out that there is a distinctive and important line between adult books and children’s books. I totally agree. But I wonder if some of the books he sees as too old could and/or should be classed as new adult? This makes me wonder what age group is really reading all that YA? Because it might actually be “new adults”, like myself, who aren’t really interested in true adult literature and have some nostalgia for the late teen years. In addition classing some literature more accurately as NA could sort out some of the content that’s more for older teens and alleviate some of the pressure created by the amount of YA being published.
Along the lines of his final point, commenters wonder if teens are becoming guests in their own sections and I agree that’s what it sounds like. However one commenter went so far as to suggest filing YA with adult books and I think that would be a mistake. Teens won’t always go looking for them there and what about all that research into giving teens their own space. The teenage years are very different from the middle grade and adult years. That’s why all that literature is written for them.
I worry that by pushing YA more into the adult realm, however, it could make the work of youth services librarians seem unnecessary. It might be a leap, but if the literature they work with is somehow lumped in with adult literature, why not have adult services subsume youth services? I don’t think libraries are all about books, but I do think the two are very intimately connected, so when you erase a distinction between the adult and young adult literature the distinction between the two groups of patrons suddenly seems a little less clear.
All in all this sounds to me more like a broken or damaged publishing system. Labeling a book as “14 and up” feels a lot more like a marketing ploy to give adults (or new adults) permission to read something that really isn’t intended for them. Which isn’t to say adults can’t or shouldn’t read YA, just that it sounds a bit like publishers fishing for the next big cross over like Hunger Games or Twilight than a genuine suggested age range.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!
Why wasn’t there a hold list on this book when I requested it?! Everyone needs to run, not walk, to get a copy of this book. It was awesome.
Drama really spoke to the awkwardness of middle school/early high school romance. Some people are more experienced or in relationships; some people are questioning their sexuality; some people are interested when you aren’t (and vice versa); some people aren’t there yet; you can’t drive so your parents have to. It’s just all so, well, dramatic. Despite the fact that it’s all mostly wondering about crushes and quick kisses, I didn’t find myself wanting to roll my eyes at its relative purity, which I attribute to the sentiments and actions being very organic.
I was totally a drama nerd in high school and I imagine, had I been in drama in middle school, this would have been the story of those years. Although I was not nearly as confident, mature, or self reflective as Callie in some regards. But despite the fact that she felt a bit older than middle school it still seemed in line with the novel. As if she was someone a middle school reader could look up to or emulate without her actions appearing overtly didactic.
Even if you are or weren’t a drama kid, this book really speaks to the middle school experience. Plus the graphic novel format makes it very accessible even for the most reluctant middle school reader. Sure the format and story aren’t really for everyone, but Drama should be!
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, May 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Growing up, Gaby Rodriguez was often told she would end up a teen mom. After all, her mother and her older sisters had gotten pregnant as teenagers; from an outsider’s perspective, it was practically a family tradition. Gaby had ambitions that didn’t include teen motherhood. But she wondered: how would she be treated if she “lived down” to others’ expectations? Would everyone ignore the years she put into being a good student and see her as just another pregnant teen statistic with no future? These questions sparked Gaby’s school project: faking her own pregnancy as a high school senior to see how her family, friends, and community would react. What she learned changed her life forever, and made international headlines in the process.
In The Pregnancy Project, Gaby details how she was able to fake her own pregnancy—hiding the truth from even her siblings and boyfriend’s parents—and reveals all that she learned from the experience. But more than that, Gaby’s story is about fighting stereotypes, and how one girl found the strength to come out from the shadow of low expectations to forge a bright future for herself.
This book would make a nice companion to Girlchild in some ways. It read a bit like the real story behind that book, minus actually living in a trailer and the sexual abuse.
I thought The Pregnancy Project had a really wonderful message about being your own person and defying stereotypes. As a librarian, I can see championing this message with patrons or students. Like Gaby says, sometimes all it takes is one person to be there for you, cheering you on. I agree with Gaby that you don’t need to be beholden to what other people think or what the statistics tell you and this is a great story for that message.
However, the book also felt very young. Or rather, Gaby sounds very young and inexperienced. She can be endearingly preachy in the way that only adolescent girls can be. I don’t think this is a bad thing, I was certainly that way in high school, as were a lot of my friends and I love her optimism. Part of my issue is just me as a reader coming to it from the other side of my twenties. I’m not exactly the targeted audience for this book.
While I found myself agreeing with her on a lot of points, such as how problematic shows like 16 and Pregnant are, I also think there is a lot more nuance to the topics she tackles. Nuance that you come to see with time, age and experience. Teen pregnancy isn’t always about simply taking a breath and not “going all the way”. There are a lot more emotions and baggage and history that can get tangled up in sex that someone in their teens (and far beyond) may not be able to disentangle. I was really glad she pointed out that abstinence is not always a realistic method of birth control.
Her brief discussions of abortion were another place I think she addressed things as too black and white. I also didn’t feel the topic was especially germane. While she may be pro-life, not everyone is. Abortion a touchy subject and I think it is also a very personal choice. Even if it wasn’t a choice she would have made, many girls do make it to avoid the gossip, lowered expectations, limitations and general disappointment she faced. I think by putting it down she detracted from her own message of being non-judgmental.
As a side note, I think this was a fabulous, if over-the-top senior project. The school where I was working does a similar project although the time allotted to it is much much shorter. Every year I found myself wishing students would choose something more than cake baking and decorating. I don’t think everyone needs to go to quite the extreme of faking a pregnancy, but I do think making a difference and really learning something would be a great goal.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. Gaby’s perspective is something I would be very interested to hear in another 10 to 15 years and once she’s become a mother herself.