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 Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: More Than Just a Broken Line

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Flirtin' with the Monster

More Than Just a Broken Line

by Susan Hart Lindquist

These days, when talking about why a book “works” one can’t simply take into account the compelling story or the beauty of the writing. Today, part of what makes a book work is its ability to connect with an audience. To become a bestseller. To stay in print.

For some authors, this has turned the game of publishing into a psychological tug of war between the desire to remain true to one’s creative vision and the need to consider what it takes to publish and, in turn, connect with readers. Do I want to write “for me” or must I write “for them”? How can I choose? How can I do both? If I write “for them” will I be selling
out? 
It’s a conundrum to be sure, and I confess, at times

I’ve been torn by these questions. Perhaps that’s why I was skeptical when Ellen first told me about the young adult novel she was writing. “It’s about my daughter’s …

Available Until Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Not So Weird Science

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Not So Weird Science

by Cara Lockwood

I will admit right now that I am entirely too critical of most sci-fi. I’m the one sitting in the movie theater grumbling, “that could never happen.” Or, more concisely, I’ll just say: “Seriously?”

Could there be some crazy disease somewhere in a lab that would turn the entire planet into brain-eating zombies or sunlight-fearing vampires? No way. Beefing up shark brains to make them super-smart predators? I don’t think so. Crazed prehistoric- sized piranhas that will devour anybody with an inflatable floatie and a cooler? Please. They want us to believe this stuff?

Like take the insane DNA-spliced mutant monsters that make terrifying cameos throughout the Hunger Games. I’m supposed to believe that one day we could be ripped apart by mutant wolves with tribute eyes? Stung by poisonous and relentless tracker jackers? Or get devoured by giant lizard men?

Seriously?

As it turns out . . . maybe so.

Not only do muttations–“mutts” for short–already exist in our world, but the stuff real scientists are …

Available Until Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

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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, August 12th, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: What Does That Deviant Wench Think She's Doing? Or, Shadowhunters Gone Wild

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Shadowhunters and Downworlders

What Does That Deviant Wench Think She's Doing? Or, Shadowhunters Gone Wild

by Sarah Rees Brennan

“So, technically, even though Jace isn’t actually related to you, you have kissed your brother.”

–Simon Lewis in City of Glass, telling it like it is

I hope, with this saucy title, that everyone has flipped right from the table of contents to this essay. Hi, guys! Almost every other essay will be more coherent and intelligent than this one, but if you want dirty jokes, you have come to the right place. Welcome to Sarah’s School of Deviant Literary Analysis, where everyone gets to canoodle, including Magnus Bane’s magnificent self.

And since I invoked Magnus Bane’s name because I was shamelessly cribbing off a phrase he used in City of Bones (nobody canoodles in his bedroom but his magnificent self), let’s begin my list of shameless debauchees (otherwise known as Cassandra Clare’s cast of characters) with a look at Magnus: warlock, Downworlder, fashion icon. Though the angel Raziel says that …

Available Until Monday, August 10th, 2015

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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, August 5th, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Emotional Pleasures of Reading Twilight

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The Psychology of Twilight

The Emotional Pleasures of Reading Twilight

by Peter Stromberg

The Twilight Saga is, simplified, a tale of the romance and adventures of a young woman and an immortal vampire she meets at school. Readers of the novels do not reject this premise out of hand–“regular old teenage girl falls for ancient vampire”–because by now we are so used to the strange rules of romantic tales that this seems completely plausible. Indeed, a stock convention of the contemporary romance novel is the dark, mysterious, and potentially dangerous male (and in fact vampires and romance have gone together like burgers and fries since the nineteenth century1). The potentially dangerous, inappropriate male character provides one of the essential ingredients of the formula: romantic stories require a seemingly insuperable barrier to the couple’s desire for union. The actual romance is generated by the description of the couple’s burning desire for one another, not tales of their enjoyable companionship walking the dog and picking …

Available Until Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Role Models

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Flirtin' with the Monster

Role Models

by Niki Burnham

I write books about teenagers, primarily for teenagers (though teen-savvy adults read them, too). Some of the books have stylized cartoon covers, tipping off the reader that what’s on the pages is comedy. Despite that, over the years I’ve received many letters from concerned parents, questioning whether or not my books are appropriately shelved. They cite the fact that some of the characters use foul language, that one character has a gay mother, or that one character smokes (ignoring the fact that she quits) in support of their argument that my writing is a “bad influence” on teen readers. I’m often taken to task for not living up to my “responsibility” as an author to provide teenagers with good role models.

While I understand their concerns, I believe that attempting to limit teens’ reading to “good role models” is the wrong way to go about educating teens about the world in which we all live.

When sitting down to craft a story, an author’s primary responsibility …

Available Until Monday, July 27th, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: The Curious Case of Primrose “Everdeen”

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The Panem Companion

The Curious Case of Primrose “Everdeen”

by V. Arrow

On the first day of kindergarten for Katniss and Peeta, when Prim was between six months and one year old, Mr. Mellark told his five-year-old son that he had been in love with Mrs. Everdeen, but that she “ran away with a coal miner” and he “had to” marry Mrs. Mellark.

Why was this still so salient and so fresh in his mind that he shared it with his five-year-old child?

It’s easy to extrapolate that the reason for his confession was in the schoolyard that morning, being kissed good-bye by the girl in a red plaid dress. However, it’s not the only reason fans have considered.

The question of Prim’s parentage is a significant point of analytical fandom debate. Is blonde-haired, blue-eyed Prim really the “passes”-for-merchant biracial daughter of dark-haired Mr. Everdeen? Or should Prim really be Primrose Mellark? There are staunch supporters on both sides of the issue.

Katniss does not at …

Available Until Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: When Laws Are Made to Be Broken

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Shadowhunters and Downworlders

When Laws Are Made to Be Broken

by Robin Wasserman

“We Shadowhunters live by a code, and that code isn’t flexible.”

–Jace Wayland, City of Bones

Imagine that your best friend came to you one day, brimming with excitement because she’d met these super-awesome new friends who suggested she come live with them, follow a bunch of arcane and unquestionable laws, and cut ties with all her old friends because they’re incapable of understanding her new super-awesome life.

If you’re a child of the ’80s like me, reared on a steady diet of Jonestown horror stories and trashy novels about brainwashed teens, you would immediately recognize the situation for what it was: Your best friend has joined a cult.

If you’re not a child of the ’80s but not completely oblivious, you’d still clue in pretty quick: definitely a cult.

Simon Lewis is far from oblivious.

As he tells his best friend, Clary Fray, in City of Ashes, “The Shadowhunter thing–they’re like a cult.” …

Available Until Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

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