Friday, June 8, 2012

What Stirs the Teenage Soul to Read

When I first started teaching high school, Harry Potter was at its height. I was a self-confessed Potterhead. I had all the books that were released up to that point. I had seen all the movies produced up to that point. It was seamless for me to start teaching high schoolers and make allusions to and jokes about the happenings at Hogwarts.

But then the expected happened - more quickly than I anticipated - the student Potterheads started to dwindle - graduating out. The book series was coming to an end in 2005, with only one book left to publish and four movies (of course, the final book was made in to a two-part film) to produce and release. My point is, the Potter Hysteria was dying down. Slowly, something started popping up in my classroom that I didn't recognize.

Twilight sprouted, like a black dandelion. It gave no warning. It was nowhere one day and sporadically sprinkled across the lawn of my classroom the next. And it procreated madly. Before long, witches and wizards were the stuff of the past and vampires and werewolves were everywhere. But I noticed a trend with this particular series I didn't see with Harry. The general audience for the Twilight series was void of male readers. The Y chromosome didn't find the same draw to the fantasy that the double-X did. With Harry, I could crack a joke, make an analogy, and nods of agreement, laughter, rolling the eyes would be evenly distributed across the room. I hadn't read any Twilight, but the audience was solely female.

That being said, I managed to go quite a few years without reading the series. I got busy. I had a baby. I took on advanced classes. I had no time to read - for myself or for school. And Twilight stayed in the classroom, though the numbers began to dwindle. And then the next wave of excitement started.

I had heard of The Hunger Games from a coworker of mine. But the name dropped in my ear and flushed right out - I had too much going on to retain it. Then, I started seeing the book, and it's sequels, in class. Like the dandelion that is vampire, the combination that is 1984, Ancient Roman coliseum, and futuristic Civil War spread like the wildfire present the first time Katniss enters the games.

I read these. I read the first, and after finishing it, I took a break. SoLs were coming. The semester needed to be tidied up. I had no time to get hooked. And then I got sick. While cocooned in bed, I read Catching Fire. And while a reader could feasibly take a break between Book I and Book II, there is no way to take a break between II & III. So, I put all school aside while I finished the entire series. I was a fan.

Again, THG kept coming up in class - kids blogged about it; books were laying on the tables, waiting for classwork to end so they could read; the movie came out this past March.  The difference was, again, I was able to make references to the series that both genders enjoyed and understood.

I needed to see for myself what the big difference was between the different series. I needed to keep my finger on the pulse that is teenage interest.  I was donated the Twilight series by seniors who were no longer enraptured by the argument between Team Edward and Team Jacob. And I read the entire series. After I finished the series, I borrowed the released movies.

I will refrain from expounding on my thoughts on the books themselves, as this was initially a lesson for me in gender interest. My key reason for reading all of this, when I have so much more I need to do, was to understand why my students were in love with one thing over another. Twilight is, in essence, a love story. But then again, so is, in one aspect, THG. Why did boys find interest in Katniss and Peeta and not Bella and Edward?

Perhaps it was the peripheral plot lines that caught their attention. Or rather, the fact that the peripheral plot line in Twilight was everything else while the meat of the sandwich was the love story. And the meat of the sandwich in The Hunger Games was, in fact, everything else while the peripheral story is the love interests.

Having read all there is to read on Harry, Katniss, and Bella, and seen all that has been released to see (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt II is scheduled to be released in November of this year), I will say that the most rounded of the series is The Hunger Games - it feels the most realistic - the most applicable. Witches and wizards may exist. There may be dragons and quidditch. Vampires - who knows? Crime sprees abound and could be explained through newborns. But most of us tend to revert to a logical sense of thought that see what happens in Panem and can project that in to our own future, unless things change. And most of today's kids are not given credit for understanding that. It may be more visceral than forefront, but it is there.

Ultimately, I can only say I appreciate all three series for finding something that stirs the teenager to read. Regardless of gender, as an English teacher, I am thankful that the kids I've had the privilege of knowing in my 7 years of public high school teaching have found something to which to relate. It really doesn't matter which they read, as long as they read. But it leaves me asking - what is the next trend? Where do I need to start reading, again?

On a side note, not as a series, but it is of interest that the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower comes out this fall. Another book that has stirred the teenage soul. I'm reading it starting tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Dionne! You are such a good writer!! (can't wait to read your book someday!) I, too, am a huge fan of the Hunger Games. Just a very intriguing subject. I almost didn't read the 2nd book because I thought it would be all about the romance. But then someone told me there was another hunger games so I got re-hooked! Romance is all fine and dandy, but there needs to be more, and that is what the Hunger Games has! I can't wait to see what the next wave of books are, too. Maybe you'll write them?! :)