Thursday, October 6, 2011

Music in Two YA Novels

This is my first ever blog entry! I've been meaning to write one for ages-it took me well over a year, but here it is. Anyway, I'm getting my MA in children's lit. I'd like to be a children's librarian. The category Children's Literature doesn't apply only to picture books, but to middle grade novels, nonfiction, YA (young adult) literature. There's so much out there! Since my first summer at Hollins University, I've been keeping track of what I read. I love contemporary fiction and classic literature as well, so I've been aiming to read 5 YA books to every contemporary adult novel I read. It was going well, but lately I've only been reading YA. Which has been delightful.

So I'm writing today because I just finished If I Stay by Gayle Forman and had a really great experience with it. It reminded me a lot of my all time favorite YA novel, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly which came out last October but I was lucky enough to read in June, 2010. I could write forever about Revloution, and I will next semester when I work on a critical analysis of it as part of an independent study. I needed to write today because I am sort of furious. (It's totally possible to be only sort of furious...I think.) The only review on the front cover of my paperback copy of If I Stay is from USA Today and reads, "Will appeal to fans of Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT." First of all, it's rude to suggest that all Twilight fans are the same and like the same books. Secondly, I read Twilight, (because I felt an obligation to read it), but that has nothing to do with why I read If I Stay. I'll admit that I got caught up in it, but I didn't like it enough to read the rest of the series. The characters in Twilight are one-dimensional. Bella is weak and falls for an abusive guy. He's gorgeous (don't get me started on how unattractive I find the actor who played him...) and cruel. Ultimately the reader deduces that he acted that way because he was protecting her, but do 5th grade girls understand that? Do 8th grade girls even get it? True, it's not written for 5th grade girls, but there's no denying that they're reading it. And let's be honest, even if you're totally comfortable with being in love with a vampire who's 70 years older than you are, it's NEVER okay for the person you're with to sneak into your bedroom without you knowing and creepily watch you sleep. That's not love. That's having a stalker.

If I Stay is like Twilight in that both books have female main characters and their stories take place in the Northwest. I'm tempted to say that the similarities end there. Mia in Forman'solds that they are. Maybe what I love most about them is how much they love music. Mia's a classical cellist whose father was a drummer in a punk band and mother always went to his shows. Adam is a guitar player in a punk band whose entire life has been music, until he meets Mia. I should point out that Mia's story isn't really a love story. It starts with tragedy and we read the novel knowing that Mia faces an unbelievably difficult decision. I suppose it is a love story-but not just romantic love. Familial love, friendship love, the overwhelming love of music. However, Adam is a huge part of her life and their relationship to music and to one another is really meaningful. I'd go on and on about this, but it would get out of hand quickly. novel comes from an incredibly loving family, which is rare in YA literature. She's in a relationship that is certainly not flawless, but it's honest, and neither of them is creepy. Her relationship with Adam seems genuine and they act like the 17 and 18 year

If I Stay and Revolution both use music really well. Mia loves classical music and Forman writes about it beautifully. Andi from Donnelly's novel is a guitar player who loves The Beatles and The Decemberists and is writing her senior thesis on (the fictional composer) Amadé Malherbeau: "...if there was no Amadé Malherbeau, there would be no Radiohead" (83). Be still my heart. "The Decemberists come on the radio. 'Grace Cathedral Hill.' We both lunge for the volume...The DJ plays two more songs from Castaways and Cutouts. We don't talk, we just listen. Most people can't do that - just shut up and listen. I close my eyes, play some air chords. It's so amazingly beautiful, that album" (134). Okay, maybe I LOVE this because of how much I adore that album, but I really think it's beautiful. Jennifer Donnelly's writing is really moving and beautiful. Both books incorporate music so much into their main character's lives and perhaps this is why they seem so vivid. Both Mia and Andi are living through tragedies - their lives are in pieces, but music keeps them alive.
I suppose that I've said some of what I intended to. To sum up, (this isn't a paper, so I can be lazy and say "to sum up") If I Stay is nothing like Twilight. Revolution is incredible. I suggest that everyone read them. I cried. Maybe that's embarrassing, but I felt a major connection to these characters and I think about them as though they're real people, which I think is the testament of a truly great book.

What I want to know now is what others think of them....

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