June Reads, Book Tweets and Thoughts on Smoking in YA Lit.

June was another big reading month. I tweeted most things and reviewed a few things too. Here’s the run down with a few other thoughts, particularly about smoking in YA lit.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky,

Tweet:  PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER Stephen Chbosky – compelling read. Charlie felt ynger than 16 but I guess that makes sense. Demerits for smoking

Look, I get that teens smoke, take drugs, have sex and generally carry on in various obnoxious ways. The thing about smoking is that it cannot be paid off in a YA book. While you are a teenager, there are no consequences to smoking, apart from it costing money and making you stink. With drugs or alcohol it is easy, and dramatically, narratively possible to show a realistic portrayal of some of the negative consequences in a YA book. These don’t need to be dire (although they can be) but every teen has that time they puked, or passed out, or let a guy fondle them or shagged the wrong girl, or were stupid and stoned in front of people they respect. That’s real. That’s balanced. It doesn’t have to be a message, but it should be real. I rarely come across a well written YA book that doesn’t take a balanced approach to drugs or alcohol. I have never seen it depicted as only glamorous or mystical.

The problem with tobacco smoking is that it is, in this book (and in LOOKING FOR ALASKA), depicted positively as something an awkward teen can share with his cool new friends, and also something that relaxes his crippling anxiety. Look, that IS what tobacco does. That’s real. The problem is that the negative consequences of tobacco smoking can be (and are in 1/3 to ½ of smokers) death. That’s right, death. But unfortunately for us YA authors, those consequences don’t materialize until the 30’s or 40’s. So we can hardly show poor Charlie coughing his lungs out with cancer at the age of 16 can we? We can’t show him leaving behind a wife and kids. So all we’re left with is glamor and relaxation.

I’m not in favor of censoring, but I think as YA authors we should take a look at this tricky issue. I would hate to think that some horribly anxious and awkward kid took up smoking because it seemed to help Charlie and nothing bad came of it. The fictional Charlie, who was 16 in 1991 would now be 37. One of my best friends died of mouth cancer at 39. Two cousins died in their early 40s. Did Charlie keep smoking? How long does he have?

But bonus points for the abortion. I’ll concede that.

PINNED by Sharon G. Flake

Tweet: PINNED by @sharonflake is both sweet and complex with two unpredictable characters, tons of voice and a lot of adorable awkward teen love.

Sharon Flake agreed to be interviewed about PINNED so I’ll be blogging more about this book later I the year.

UNWHOLLY (Unwind, #2) by Neal Shusterman

Tweet: So UNWHOLLY by @NealShusterman is totally AWESOME!! Reread UNWIND yesterday and read UNWHOLLY today. Cross-eyed now but delighted.#amreading

I’ve ranted about UNWIND many times on this blog and made getting an ARC of UNWHOLLY  one of my main goals for ALA12. I only had to stalk Neal Shusterman and Simon and Shuster for two days to get it too! And it was so worth it. I love this series more than ever.

GOING UNDERGROUND, by Susan Vaught

Tweet: GOING UNDEGROUND by @susan_vaught is a funny, moving, disturbing read.

I’ve been doing some research about juvenile justice and how the law treats juvenile sex offenders lately. This book popped up in a search and I tracked it down at the library the same day. Apart from being a well written and moving story, the injustice is reveals about how children who make completely normal adolescent mistakes is horrifying. Everyone with a teenager or preteen should read this. Teachers should read this. Prosecutors, lawmakers and defenders should read this.

THE FREEDOM MAZE: A Novel by Delia Sherman,

I reviewed this excellent book earlier this month.

JUMPING OFF SWINGS by Jo Knowles

Didn’t bother finishing this one. If you want to know why look up my Goodreads review.

I KNOW IT’S OVER by C.K. Kelly Martin

I actually enjoyed this book,  but I had some problems with the subject matter. Check Goodreads for my review on this one too.

HARLEM SUMMER by Walter Dean Myers

This novel was a little didactic, especially about the history of Harlem during the prohibition years. But I still rather enjoyed it. I think it’s a great introduction to Jazz and black history as well as being a good, suspenseful story about a kid who feels very contemporary, despite the historical setting.

BOOK OF RHYMES: THE POETICS OF HIP HOP by Adam Bradley

A great rundown on how hip hop lyrics evolve, the techniques that are used, how it relates to “poetry”. I’m hopelessly ignorant about hip hop so it was hard to relate since I hadn’t ehrd of most of the artists and tracks, but nevertheless this is a scholarly and interesting review.

GOTH GIRL RISING (The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, #2) by Barry Lyga

Tweet: Loved GOTH GIRL RISING by @barrylyga . Poor Kyra, she’s hard to like but I saw a lot if high school me (punk not goth) in her.

This is a great example of how to do the smoking thing. Kyra smokes. She’s messed up, yeah so she smokes. Her friend questions the irony of her smoking when her mother died of cancer. Kyra gets it. She doesn’t quit or anything, but we know she gets it. That’s enough. That’s real.

EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL, by Simmone Howell

Tweet: Stayed up to 4am reading EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL by @postteen. So excited by real-size heroine, I guess. #realgirlsrule

I loved this Australian set book A LOT. Loved the messed up heroine and loved that she’s a big girl. HOWEVER why is the girl on the cover so slim? I was disappointed with this. Very disappointed. Badly done Bloomsbury USA. Badly done.

TILT by Alan Cumyn

Tweet: Very much enjoyed TILT by @acumyn. Great book for boys and people who like boys! #amreading

This was a very fun and sweet book with one of the most hilarious “consequences of teen sex” scenes I’ve ever read. But it had depth too, and plenty of angst. My only complaint is that it was trying a bit too hard to be a sports book – the basketball felt tacked on.

THE RELUCTANT JOURNAL OF HENRY K. LARSEN Susin Nielsen

Tweet: really enjoyed the reluctant journey of henry k larsen by @susinnielsen. visceral yet innocent somehow. an odd mix but it works

I reviewed this book earlier this month.

MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD, Francisco X. Stork

Tweet: MARCELLO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco Stork.. Complex, deep and poignant. 4/5 stars

I loved this “neuro-atypical” protagonist, though I was a little uncomfortable with his robotic speech. I’ve never really heard and kids on the autism spectrum speak like this. Apart from that, this was a really great book which I strongly recommend.

THE BEST AND HARDEST THING by Pat Brisson

See my review on Goodreads to get my thoughts.

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5 thoughts on “June Reads, Book Tweets and Thoughts on Smoking in YA Lit.

  1. Interesting point on smoking in YA. I’m constantly astounded whenever I see teens smoking. There’s certainly an element of rebellion to it, I suppose, that makes it seem so attractive, and perhaps that whole idea of being young and invincible–the fact that smoking health issues do typically show up years later. It’s certainly an interesting topic, and one worthy of discussion.

  2. It’s problematic certainly. Should we stand our ground and say “no” to censoring. Or should we stand in horror at the prediction that one billion people will die from tobacco related disease this century. I don’t want to be part of that.

  3. Honestly, I don’t think any teen smokes because of a YA novel, or a movie for that matter. Teens know those aren’t real. Whenever people get antsy about content in YA novels, I kind of want to laugh, because generally, the schools and situations depicted in these novels are so incredibly removed and exaggerated from the actual high school experience. Kids smoke because people they know in real life smoke. It’s a social thing, for the most part, one that’s facilitated by the people you hang out with. A teen who reads a YA book with smoking, but who doesn’t have friends who smoke, isn’t going to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes, because smoking is only “cool” if the people you hang out with think it’s cool. If the teen does have friends who smoke, odds are they’ve already tried it and decided for themselves whether or not they wish to continue (so either they’re already a smoker, or they tried it, got totally repulsed, and would never pick up a cigarette again in a million years).

    1. Well, there’s a lot of research about this actually that suggests that teens are strongly affected by media messages. I would assume that to include YA books, though I don’t know that this has been studied in particular. But think of the things that YA books got you into or deterred you from. Lots of girls from my generation were deterred by Go Ask Alice, for example. I ate things I read about in YA books (liverwurst and and cream cheese sandwiches in The Time Trilogy).
      I’d love to see a study about this.

  4. For the record: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contends that 44% of teens who begin smoking do so because they’ve seen smoking in movies. The CDC reports that teens are 2-3 times more likely to start smoking after seeing repeated smoking scenes in movies than teens who are lightly exposed to smoking in movies.

    And

    Smoking in Movies and Increased Smoking Among Young Adults
    by Song, Anna V; Ling, Pamela M; Neilands, Torsten B; Glantz, Stanton A
    Content Type
    Journal Article
    Abstract
    This study assessed whether smoking in the movies was associated with smoking in young adults. A national web-enabled cross-sectional survey of 1528 young adults, aged 18-25, was performed between September and November 2005. Logistic regression and path analysis using probit regression were used to assess relationships between exposure to smoking in the movies and smoking behavior. Analysis was completed in December 2006. Exposure to smoking in the movies predicted current smoking. The adjusted odds of current smoking increased by a factor of 1.21 for each quartile increase in exposure to smoking (p<0.01) in the movies, reaching 1.77 for the top exposure quartile. The unadjusted odds of established smoking (100+ cigarettes with current smoking) increased by 1.23 per quartile (p<0.001) of exposure, reaching 1.86 for the top quartile. This effect on established smoking was mediated by two factors related to smoking in the movies: positive expectations about smoking and exposure to friends and relatives who smoked, with positive expectations accounting for about two thirds of the effect. The association between smoking in the movies and young adult smoking behavior exhibited a dose-response relationship; the more a young adult was exposed to smoking in the movies, the more likely he or she would have smoked in the past 30 days or have become an established smoker.
    Publication Title
    American Journal of Preventive Medicine
    Publisher
    Elsevier Inc
    Date
    2007
    Volume
    33
    Issue
    5
    Pages
    396 – 403
    ISSN
    0749-3797
    EISSN
    1873-2607
    DOI
    10.1016/j.amepre.2007.07.026
    Genre
    Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't, Journal Article, Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
    Subjects
    Smoking – psychology, Adolescent Behavior – psychology
    Language
    English
    Copyright
    American Journal of Preventive Medicine
    Why is this result here?
    Your query matched the indexed full text of this document.

    Maybe books are different. Maybe not.

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