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 this is the first …

Available Until Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay:The Great Debate

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A New Dawn

The Great Debate

by Rachel Caine
DEBATE HOST: Welcome to the most popular reality show on high-numbered cable television: The Great Debate! We have two teams of very learned, articulate scholars with us to debate an exciting and timely topic: Resolved: Vampire-themed fiction represents thinly veiled sexuality and violence. Therefore, vampire fiction is not suitable for young adults, and in particular Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which has brought vampire-themed young adult fiction to the forefront, is not appropriate for young adult readers. Boos and hisses from the audience. DEBATE HOST: With us today, arguing that vampire fiction is unsuitable for young adults, are Professor Nelda Harlen-Price, head of the English Literature department at the Skokie Academy for the Arts, and Professor Hans Scheller of the University of Classical Education, author of the monograph On The Sexual Content and Repressive Nature of Folklore-Based Fictional Adaptations. Reluctant applause from studio audience. HARLEN-PRICE: Happy to be here. SCHELLER: Ja. DEBATE HOST: Advocating the right of …

Available Until Monday, July 1st, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay:Science, Technology and the Danger of Daemons

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Navigating the Golden Compass

Science, Technology and the Danger of Daemons

by Arthur B. Markman

I read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy aloud to one of my sons when he was about nine. Needless to say, he loved it. When I told him that I was going to write an essay about the books, he asked me to say that the d¦mons in Lyra’s world are really the people’s consciences. I am a cognitive psychologist who studies the way people think, and so his suggestion was not totally off-base–though it also was not exactly what I wanted to write about.

What really interests me about the books is Pullman’s cautionary view of the pursuit of knowledge and the advance of technology. He does not display any particular love of academics with their elite institutions. He is particularly skeptical of technological advances arising from this knowledge, which can lead to disastrous outcomes both intended and unintended.

So, at first, it seemed that I would have to disappoint my …

Available Until Thursday, June 6th, 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 watched, by guards …

Available Until Wednesday, May 8th, 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:The Dangerous Dead

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Nyx in the House of Night

The Dangerous Dead

by John Edgar Browning

Reading the House of Night series is very much akin to reading Zoey’s favorite book, Dracula (1897), for like Bram Stoker’s novel, one will find also in the House of Night’s pages the subtle mingling of folklore and reality with popular fiction. It will probably come as little surprise to readers out there to learn that, when it comes to its vampyres, the House of Night is steeped in all three. However, which parts are “fiction” and which are “reality” may come as a shock and, in some cases, may even seem implausible.

Folklore has almost as many variations on the vampire as there are vampire films (at least 700 of which, or more, belong to Dracula or his semblance alone), and more often than not the two are confused for one another.

The House of Night series, and the various associations it conjures up, is no exception to this. However, the series’ treatment of the vampire mythology is surprisingly faithful to the folklore, …

Available Until Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay:Waking Up the Trees

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Through the Wardrobe

Waking Up the Trees

by Susan Juby

The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained.

–Henry Beston

The just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam

–William Blake

The way I read him, C. S. Lewis was a tree-hugger. He was a don at Oxford and very dignified, so he probably skipped the tie-dye and the patchouli incense, but his Chronicles of Narnia, and especially Prince Caspian, suggest that he was as green as any modern day eco-freak. Prince Caspian can be seen as the fantasy equivalent of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: it shows us that we human beings can become more responsible citizens of the planet Earth, if only we face the facts about the effects we have on our environment and let ourselves get a little closer …

Available Until Thursday, March 14th, 2019

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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 Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

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Free Smart Pop YA Essay:Percy Jackson and the Lords of Death

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Demigods and Monsters - Expanded Edition

Percy Jackson and the Lords of Death

by J&P Voelkel

Once Percy Jackson has vanquished all the foes that Greek and Roman myths can throw at him, what’s next? Sure, his old adversaries could re-materialize and attack at any moment, but like a video game you’ve already beaten, the second time around would be so much ancient history. Yawn.

And what’s the point of spending all your summers at Camp Half-Blood if you have no new challenges to train for? There are only so many sword practices, mock battles, and games of Capture the Flag you can play before your hyperactive demigod brain starts itching for some real-life action.

So it seems like only a matter of time before Percy would be hounding the Oracle for a new prophecy and begging Chiron for a new mission to sink his celestial bronze sword into.

Something huge. Something different.

Something extraordinary.

Something even a battle-hardened demigod has never faced before.

No problem.

It’s a big world out there and …

Available Until Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

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