Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Bent, Shattered, and Mended

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Bent, Shattered, and Mended

by Blythe Woolston

The Hunger Games trilogy gave me bad dreams. Actually, the books provided images, feelings, and ideas that my brain used as ingredients to brew up nightmares about children’s bones floating in a river of red dust and creepy lizard mutts lurking in the storm drain outside my front door. My brain is good at that sort of thing. But dreaming wasn’t the only business my brain was doing while I slept. It was also forming memories. That is why I remember Greasy Sae’s concoction of mouse meat and pig entrails, Prim’s untucked shirt, and, of course, Katniss, the girl on fire.

You probably remember why Katniss called Prim “little duck.” It’s a detail that’s important to the story. But–unless you share my personal fascination with mice and nasty-bad soup–Sae’s recipe isn’t stashed in long-term memory. That’s because every individual has a unique brain in charge of selecting information and forming memories. Depending on our previous experiences, we notice some things and ignore others. In the …

Available Until Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Beauty Smackdown

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Mind-Rain

Beauty Smackdown

by Janette Rallison

I belong to a book club. We generally spend fifteen minutes talking about the month’s book and the rest of the two hours talking about our kids and husbands. (Plus we consume large amounts of chocolate. This is why I go.) When we read Uglies, we spent the entire time talking not only about the book, but about the series as well. Like many of the women in the book club, I couldn’t stop at just one book. I had to find out what happened to Tally, David, Shay, and Zane. I also had to see who ended up pretty and whether or not it made them happy.

Science fiction authors are known for taking aspects of our society and magnifying them in their books, giving readers a chance to see what would happen if our present attitudes and practices were taken to the extreme. And as the titles suggest, one …

Available Until Monday, May 20th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: All That Glitters Is Not Hovery

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Mind-Rain

All That Glitters Is Not Hovery

by Lili Wilkinson

Teens are generally more interested in language than adults. They produce more slang, more poetry, more neologisms and nicknames, and memorize more song lyrics than their elders. They’re still acquiring language in ways that most adults aren’t: as a tool for self-definition.

–Scott Westerfeld1

Shay sometimes talked in a mysterious way, like she was quoting the lyrics of some band no one else listened to. (Uglies)

What if you had no control over your body? The way you looked, what you wore? How your brain worked? How would you still know that you were you?

When you see me, how do you know I’m me, and not someone else?

There’s how I look, where I live, what I wear. What I listen to, read, watch.

And there’s the way I talk.

I live in Melbourne, Australia. Here, when you blow off fifth period and go shopping, you’re wagging. When I give someone a …

Available Until Thursday, May 16th, 2019

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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, May 15th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Someone to Watch Over Me

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Someone to Watch Over Me

by Lili Wilkinson

It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down.
-Katniss Everdeen, Catching Fire
A few hundred years ago, if you did something wrong you were physically punished–beaten or even hanged, usually in front of a crowd. The whole point of this was to warn the people watching–if you do something bad, this could happen to you. Except it didn’t quite work. Because if you’re watching a starving thirteen-year-old girl being flogged for stealing a loaf of bread, you’re not thinking about what a terrible person she is, and how you’d better not ever do anything like that. You’re thinking, That poor girl. She only wanted something to eat. And the people who are doing the punishing don’t want you to feel sorry for her.

So in the nineteenth century things changed. Instead of physically hurting criminals, we started to put them in prison. And the thing about prison is, you’re always being …

Available Until Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Sweet Caroline

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A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls

Sweet Caroline

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I’ve prepared a speech about Caroline Forbes. Please don’t interrupt me, because I have a lot to say on the matter, and I really want to get this right.

By this point, you may already be wondering why I would choose to write about Caroline when there are brooding vampires and butt-kicking heroines to be discussed and a dark and twisty Damon Salvatore to be pondered, adored, and dissected. The answer is simple: in a world of vampires, witches, and tragically beautiful girls who never asked to be loved nearly so well as they are, Caroline is an exception to nearly every rule–even the ones she tries desperately to follow. Tactless, shallow, materialistic, and quick to judge, our Miss Forbes is the latest in a long line of loveable TV bitcas, heir to the throne of One Tree Hill’s Brooke Davis, Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf, and …

Available Until Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Your Heart Is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist

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The Girl Who Was on Fire

Your Heart Is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist

by Mary Borsellino

There’s a piece of graffiti on a wall in Palestine. Over the years since it was painted, it’s been photographed by scores of travelers and journalists. It reads:

Your heart is a weapon the size of your fist. Keep fighting. Keep loving.

More than bombs, fire, guns or arrows, love is the most powerful weapon in the Hunger Games. It stirs and feeds the rebellion. It saves the doomed. It destroys the bereaved. And it gives even the most devastated survivors a reason to go on.

“Love” is not synonymous with “passion”. Hatred is also a passionate emotion. When I say “love” here, I mean compassion, loyalty, empathy, and the bonds of friendship, family, and romance. All these things are present in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. So too are greed, selfishness, hatred, and fear. That the protagonists are able to put stock in love, even while given so many reasons to hate, is what gives the Hunger Games a note of hope despite the …

Available Until Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

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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, April 17th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: Naturally Unnatural

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Mind-Rain

Naturally Unnatural

by Will Shetterly

Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.

–Richard Brinsley Sheridan

1. What are we?

In the Academy of Athens, Plato gave a famous definition of a human: “A featherless biped.” Everyone admired that until Diogenes of Sinope tossed a plucked chicken on the ground and said, “See, Plato’s human!” Plato quickly changed his definition to “A featherless biped–with broad nails.”

For centuries, that answer was as good as any. We had no choice in the matter. We were what nature made us: a mash-up of genetic material provided by a male and a female parent.

But what would we be if we could ignore nature and give ourselves feathers, four legs, or claws? Would we still be human? If what nature gives us is natural, would we become unnatural by changing ourselves? Would we become so different that we should be called nonhuman, ex-human, or formerly human? Might changing ourselves make …

Available Until Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay: A Special Hero

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Mind-Rain

A Special Hero

by J FitzGerald McCurdy

In fiction, heroes and villains are usually main characters, often in opposition to one another. Heroes are distinguished by their exceptional courage, fortitude, and boldness, while villains are depicted as egregiously wicked, corrupt, or malevolent.

In the Uglies series, Dr. Cable is clearly the villain. Her lust for power and control is right up there with that of our world’s most notorious bad guys, Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. And like those historic villains, Cable is a sociopath who will do whatever it takes, even murder, to maintain the status quo, convinced that the end–keeping the population in its cage to protect the world–justifies the means. When Special Circumstances attacks the Smoke at her instruction and kills the Boss, the cantankerous middle-aged ugly who looks after the Smoke’s collection of old Rusty magazines, Cable displays neither regret for her troops’ excessive use of violence nor remorse over the old man’s death. …

Available Until Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

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