Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Reality Hunger

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Reality Hunger

by Ned Vizzini

When I was nineteen, slightly older than Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (and worse at archery), I was invited to leave my home and journey to a faraway land to prepare for a new chapter in my life. The faraway land was not the Capitol but Minneapolis, Minnesota. The new chapter was not a pubescent deathmatch–I had just been through that in high school–but a professional arena where every day contestants young and old are ground up and forgotten, driven to alcoholism, and sent back to graduate school. I was going to be a published author. My publisher had decided that I needed “media training.”

I arrived at MSP Airport with scant television experience. In grade school I had been on a Nickelodeon “Big Help” public service ad raking leaves and was given 0.2 seconds of screen time; as an infant I had failed out of auditions for a diaper commercial. (I could still end up in an adult diaper …

Available Until Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Modern-Day Perceval

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Secrets of the Dragon Riders

The Modern-Day Perceval

by Joshua Pantalleresco

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

–Christopher Reeve

Heroes are the foundation of epic fantasy. I’ve enjoyed heroic tales ever since I picked up my first comic book at the age of eight. There was something larger than life about someone making a difference that stuck with me. It influenced me to read my first fantasy novel. Fantasy and comics aren’t that different at heart: Both feature great evils bent on destroying all the heroes hold dear, whether it’s something personal like their family or something larger such as their hometown or even the whole world. What fascinates me to this day is how each hero responds to crisis.

There are different kinds of heroes. Some are like Superman or King Arthur and possess all the tools to become a great hero– they have the skills, the …

Available Until Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Inevitable Decline of Decadence

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

The Inevitable Decline of Decadence

by Adrienne Kress

The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the
factors of decadence–luxury, skepticism, weariness and superstition–are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the
next.

–Cyril Connolly

The Hunger Games trilogy deals with many themes: war, rebellion, the manipulation of media. But it was its concern with societal decadence and its inevitable downfall that made the first book’s release timely. The bestselling YA dystopian series came onto shelves just as the world’s economy took a tumble. For years we’d been living in comfort and excess. Consumerism was rife, and shows like Sex and the City glorified consumption by extolling the virtues of shoes worth hundreds of dollars. Then, suddenly, the party was over, and the world became concerned with trying to save money rather than spend it. Today the idea of wasteful consumption turns our stomachs.

It isn’t as if …

Available Until Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: King Edmund the Cute

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Through the Wardrobe

King Edmund the Cute

by Diana Peterfreund

Let’s get it straight: I wasn’t sitting around writing “Diana Hearts Edmund” in my Trapper Keeper, but I had an enormous crush on Edmund Pevensie when I was a kid. When I admit that to people, then and now, I invariably get a reaction that’s halfway between bemused and appalled. Edmund? they say. Isn’t he the petulant, whiny traitor responsible for Aslan’s death?

Yes, yes he is. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But that’s only the start of Edmund’s adventures in Narnia. He pulls it together by the end of that book and proceeds to rock out for four more. No, Ed doesn’t leave us with the best first impression in all of literature, but he more than makes up for it in the rest of the series.

If anything, his experiences in the first book1 give him a breadth of knowledge and depth of experience and sorrow …

Available Until Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Otherworld Is Greek to Me

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Nyx in the House of Night

The Otherworld Is Greek to Me

by Trinity Faegen

From character names to story elements, P.C. and Kristin Casts’ House of Night series is a treasure trove of allusions to Greek mythology. Nyx’s origins are in Greek myth–she appears in Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Illiad, and other ancient Greek texts. Aphrodite takes her name from the Greek goddess. But the references to Greek myth that fascinate me most are those related to Nyx’s Otherworld. The Casts have taken the ancient Greek’s Underworld and added their own imaginative twist, creating a colorful, intriguing new answer to the eternal question, “Where do we go after we die?” Just like the Underworld in Greek mythology, selective visits to the Otherworld by the living are allowed. Also just like the Underworld, some visitors can never leave. And while the two aren’t identical, there are enough similarities that it’s interesting to compare and contrast.

The uncertainty of the afterlife is universal, a …

Available Until Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Percy, I am Your Father

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Demigods and Monsters

Percy, I am Your Father

by Sarah Beth Durst

Note to self: Do not become a parent in a fantasy novel.

Seriously, have you ever noticed how disturbingly often parents in fantasy novels are dead, kidnapped, missing, clueless, distant, or unknown? Kind of makes me want to round up all the authors, sit them on those pleather psychiatrist couches, and say, “Now, tell me about your mother . . .”

On the other hand, it works very nicely as a storytelling device: Get the parents out of the way and then something interesting can happen. I think of it as the Home Alone technique. You see it in books by C. S. Lewis, Lemony Snicket, J. K. Rowling . . . and you definitely see it in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. All the kids at Camp Half-Blood, including the protagonist, Percy, are separated from their parents.

But are the parents really gone from the story? True, they don’t …

Available Until Friday, March 31st, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Good Girl Always Goes for the Bad Boy

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A New Dawn

The Good Girl Always Goes for the Bad Boy

by Megan McCafferty

The Twilight series has been on my should-read list for some time. I was drawn to Twilight in the bookstore shortly after it came out. The striking crimson-on-black cover art–pale hands held out in offering, tempting readers with an Edenic apple–bore no resemblance to the glittery pink books surrounding it on the shelves.

Then I read the plot synopsis:

About three things I was absolutely positive:

First, Edward was a vampire.

Second, there was a part of him–and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be–that thirsted for my blood.

And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

Yikes. As the author of books for teens, it’s my job to familiarize myself with the most popular and best-reviewed books for young adults. But I had no interest in reading a gothic love story about teenage vampires. Generally speaking, I like my teen entertainment to be based on reality. …

Available Until Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Hunger Game Theory

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The Girl Who Was on Fire - Booster Pack

Hunger Game Theory

by Diana Peterfreund

The titular Hunger Games in Suzanne Collins’ series is neither about a game, nor about hunger (indeed, as we see in Catching Fire, the fact that District 12 won the Games in no way guaranteed them the supposed bountiful prize). It’s about political control by a despotic government over its downtrodden (and even its not-downtrodden) subjects.

And it’s all about game theory.

The first thing to keep in mind about game theory is that it’s not necessarily about games. If it were, you’d pretty much only have Scrabble champs and sabermetricians studying it. Instead, it’s a massive field populated by brilliant (even Nobel Prize—winning) economists, psychologists, mathematicians, evolutionary biologists, and politicians. Game theory is a mathematical approach to the study of decision-making. It’s about strategy, about how people are programmed to respond in various social situations, and about the forces that can predict the ways in which living things, companies, communities, and …

Available Until Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Just Another Crazed Narnia Fan

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Through the Wardrobe

Just Another Crazed Narnia Fan

by Deb Caletti

When I was in the sixth grade, I loaned my copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Lisa Miller and never got it back. Not that I hold a grudge. Lisa had a surgery that required breaking both her legs and resetting them, putting her in a wheelchair for the good part of a year. Flimsy excuse, yes? I mean, this was my beloved and cherished copy, part of the ENTIRE SET of the Chronicles of Narnia that my parents had given me for Christmas when I was ten. An entire set of Narnia books without The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe–it’s like an entire set of dishes without the, well, dishes.

I still remember getting those books. For some reason, my mother had hidden them, unwrapped, inside a set of decorative drums that were underneath the Christmas tree. One day I was messing around, as …

Available Until Friday, March 17th, 2017

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Introduction: Shadowhunters and Downworlders

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Shadowhunters and Downworlders

Introduction: Shadowhunters and Downworlders

by Cassandra Clare

There’s a question that every writer both is intimately familiar with and dreads having to answer. Where did you get the idea for your books?

It’s not because it’s a bad question. It’s a fair question to ask, and it’s not as if we don’t understand why we get asked it–of course people are curious about the genesis of an idea! But the truth is it’s very rare that any book or series of books grows out of one single idea. Usually it grows the way a rolling stone gathers moss or the grit in an oyster adds layers until it’s a pearl. It begins with the seed of an idea, an image or a concept, and then grows from there as the writer adds characters, ideas they love, bits and pieces of their fascinations and interests, until they’ve created a world.

I’ve told the story of “how I got the idea …

Available Until Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

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