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

–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 …

Available Until Friday, November 4th, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: To Bite, or Not to Bite; That is the Question

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A New Dawn

To Bite, or Not to Bite; That is the Question

by Janette Rallison

What’s your definition of a bad day? A fight with a friend? A speeding ticket? How about being attacked by a vampire and painfully turned into the undead, then realizing you must wander for eternity fighting off a craving to kill people? Yeah, that would pretty much be a bad day.

Carlisle, the leader of the Cullen clan of vampires had this bad day and (we can assume) many other bad days that followed. Stephenie Meyer doesn’t skimp when dishing out problems for her characters. Seriously, if you were Cinderella and could choose someone to be your fairy godmother, you wouldn’t want it to be Stephenie Meyer. Sure, she could come up with the ultimate Prince Charming to take you to the ball, but he might kill you afterward.

Anyway, this particular bad day of Carlisle’s, when he was attacked and transformed into a vampire, started the ball rolling for the Twilight …

Available Until Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Stealing Fire From the Gods

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Demigods and Monsters - Expanded Edition

Stealing Fire From the Gods

by Paul Collins

Growing up is dangerous. Being yourself is dangerous.

In the classic Australian film, Strictly Ballroom, the chief character, Scott, wants to dance his own steps and wants to do it his way. And all Hades breaks loose!

Scott’s attempts at becoming an individual, at becoming himself, are seen as a crime, an act of rebellion, against the social “group” of which he is a member because Scott is not fitting in; he’s not conforming.

Well, neither is Percy Jackson.

Percy is dyslexic, has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and is always getting into trouble. In most school systems, and society at large, that pretty much makes Percy a loser, the kid least likely to succeed, the kind of kid who’ll never amount to anything and isn’t worth the effort anyway. Ever heard that one before?

Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, turns these so-called flaws on their heads.

Like many kids in his position–labeled a misfit, …

Available Until Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The War of Light and Darkness

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Through the Wardrobe

The War of Light and Darkness

by Herbie Brennan

The Chronicles of Narnia is a seven-book tale of good versus evil–the age-old war of Light and Darkness. It’s a story you’ll also find in the Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and many other fantasy novels–a heady brew of myth and magic, brave heroes, dark villains, mystic artifacts, and occult powers.

But that’s all just fiction–right? You’d never get black magicians, mystic artifacts, and occult powers in the real world, would you?

Well . . .

The author of the Narnia chronicles, Clive Staples Lewis, fought in the First World War. He joined the British Army in 1917, and was commissioned an officer in the third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. He fought at the Somme and was subsequently wounded during the Battle of Arras.

He was forty years old when the Second World War broke out, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. Just four years after the war ended, …

Available Until Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Thing About Elves Is...

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Secrets of the Dragon Riders

The Thing About Elves Is...

by Gail Sidonie Sobat

Well, they’re a slippery lot. Hard to pin down. The wee folk. The little people. Fairies. Or is that faeries? Or brownies? Or pixies? Pan or Puck? Sylphs or dryads or nymphs? Goblins or hobgoblins or gremlins or gnomes? Leprechauns or imps or sprites?

Enough to set the mind reeling!

So to begin at the beginning, sort of: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, elf is an Old English word (sometimes spelled ylf/ielf/aelf/alf) which denotes “a class of supernatural beings, believed to be of dwarfish form, and to possess magical powers, which they exercised either to the help or the hurt of mankind. Now a mere synonym of fairy. Sometimes distinguished from fairies a) as a subject species; b) as more malignant.”

But how did these creatures of the stuffy Oxford morph into the vibrant Arya and Islanzad­ and Oromis and those other elves who people (er . . . elfize?) Paolini’s Inheritance …

Available Until Friday, October 14th, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Introduction: A New Dawn

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A New Dawn

Introduction: A New Dawn

by Ellen Hopkins

Tread carefully, dear readers. There’s a new vampire in town, and Edward Cullen is so not your mother’s vampire. Okay, he does have a few things in common with more classic bloodsuckers like Anne Rice’s Lestat. He’s cultured. Insanely alluring. Downright dazzlingly sexy. Drop-dead gorgeous, in fact. (Sorry, couldn’t help the double entendre, and you’ll find more in this book. Authors just love stuff like that.) But what makes Edward so damn addictive is not his undeadness. It’s his abiding humanity. Okay, confession. I was at first dumbfounded by the success of Twilight and its sequels, Eclipse, New Moon, and Breaking Dawn. Oh, I’ve always understood the lure of the vampire. For many years I was, in fact, a dedicated horror reader. Stephen King and Dean Koontz were always at the top of my reading lists, along with classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley. When …

Available Until Friday, October 7th, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Introduction: Secrets of the Dragon Riders

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Secrets of the Dragon Riders

Introduction: Secrets of the Dragon Riders

by James A. Owen

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.


That quote by Desiderus Erasmus is usually mentioned, wryly, by someone who doesn’t share Erasmus’ point of view about someone who does. I’m so far in the latter category I can’t even see the other side. I am utterly addicted to print, and am physically incapable of passing a newsstand, bookstore, or secondhand shop without giving the books on display at least a cursory glance. More often than not (which means practically every single time) I make some kind of a purchase, and for a moment that new book might as well have been under a Christmas tree for all the love I foster on it.

To a lot of people, it might seem as if my priorities are a bit skewed–but I’m really just engaging in something as old …

Available Until Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

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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 Monday, October 3rd, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Not Even the Gods Are Perfect

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Demigods and Monsters

Not Even the Gods Are Perfect

by Elizabeth E. Wein

Maybe your brain is hardwired to read Ancient Greek. Maybe you’re struggling to read this book. You wish it was in an alphabet you recognized. You wish the words didn’t look like brainteaser puzzles.

It’s far more likely that if you’re reading this, reading comes easy to you. Maybe you look at the kid in your class with learning disabilities and you think, “Must be stupid–he can barely read.”

Maybe you feel sorry for him. Maybe you’re interested in finding out more, but you’re shy and embarrassed and avoid making eye contact or talking to him, because he’s so different and you don’t know what it’s like and you don’t want to say the wrong thing.

Maybe you make fun of him. Maybe behind his back, so he won’t know.

Maybe to his face. “Hey, here’s a hard one for you, what’s two plus two?” It’s got nothing to do with reading, but it’ll …

Available Until Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Team Katniss

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Team Katniss

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

These days, it seems like you can’t throw a fish in a bookstore without hitting a high-stakes love triangle–not that I recommend the throwing of fish in bookstores, mind you (it annoys the booksellers–not to mention the fish), but it certainly seems like more and more YA heroines are being faced with a problem of abundance when it comes to the opposite sex. While I am a total sucker for romance (not to mention quite fond of a variety of fictional boys myself), I still can’t help but wonder if, as readers, we’re becoming so used to romantic conflict taking center stage that we focus in on that aspect of fiction even when there are much larger issues at play.

No book has ever made me ponder this question as much as Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy–in part because it seems like everyone I know has very strong feelings about which boy is the best fit for Katniss, but also because the books themselves contain …

Available Until Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

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