The past few books got me thinking about what really classifies a book that is geared specifically for young adults, as opposed to children. I researched this in hopes of finding some sort of answer, and came across this interesting article and wanted to share it with everyone.
After reading just a few pages of Feed, one thought really stuck in my mind: the BIG difference between the text/language in this work compared to what we have seen in other books this semester. Feed would absolutely be considered a book written for young adults, rather than one written for children. As we approach the end of semester, and focus on books geared toward a different age group, it is quite interesting to take notice of the differences between the two. As stated by Kimberly Reynolds, “Incorporating writing for teenagers challenged many long-held assumptions about children’s literature; as a consequence, there are now many stylistically complex children’s books that include sex, swearing, and random violence, and which end bleakly.” (Reynolds 27)
It is quite clear that books written for a young adult reader offer its audiences new complexities that would not necessarily arise in a children’s book. Just as we have seen in Becoming Naomi Leon and Speak, issues are raised that challenge the plot lines of elementary children’s books. Feed presents a great deal to its readers, as the appropriate audience age is fourteen and up. The text in this work is quite different from much that we have seen this semester. The characters in the book use inappropriate language, as well as reference topics beyond the typical scope of a children’s book.
Feed offers its readers many new complexities that range from sex to consuming alcohol to death. For a fourteen year old, this plot line could be completely new to them. The characters reference past flings they have had, go to parties when underage drinking is tolerable, and are conflicted by Violet’s sudden illness. The author is able to throw many curve balls to the reader, and constantly add new complications as the book progresses.
Thinking more about this work, I realized that many young readers could easily relate to Violet, in terms of her naive upbringing. Yes, she is aware of the hardships facing the world, but she really doesn’t know anything about subjects approached in this work. She is home schooled so she knows nothing of how a normal teenager carries out his or her life. When meeting Titus and his group of friends on the moon, she is exposed to many new things. Feed reaches out and captivates its readers with its griping storyline. The work is able to not only introduce new complexities to its young readers, but also position itself as a book more relatable to its audience. Feed is a direct representation of the “new” type of children’s book Reynolds is describing.
The portrayal of family, whether it is a positive or negative one, really took my interest as I progressed through the work. The impacts these familial relationships have on certain characters throughout its entirety are quite striking. The work shows that not all families are perfect, many have their flaws, and it is these flaws that, in a sense, mold the characters.
I want to focus on the differences that arise when the children, being Naomi and Owen, are exposed to different relationships – a damaging, unhealthy one with their mother versus a loving, respectful one with their father. When the children’s mother comes back into the picture, showing up on Gram’s doorstep, things begin to take a turn for the worse. Skyla tries to win over Naomi’s love and respect by buying her nice things, when, in reality, all she yearns for is her mother’s love. We learn that Skyla plans to bring just Naomi to Las Vegas, leaving Owen to stay with Gram, and I begin to question were the gifts just a form of bribery? Zoning in on Owen’s relationship with Skyla, or lack there of, it is clear that she sees no need to establish one with him; it is nonexistent. When she does gift him with a new bicycle she makes it clear that the gift was from her boyfriend, Clive. It is quite clear that the relationship with their mother is very unhealthy, especially considering her dependence on alcohol.
In contrast, the children’s relationship with their father is very different. Although they are just reconnecting with him, it is clear that he adores his children and wants to be a part of their life. When they return from their trip to Mexico, things seem better. Specifically, Naomi gains the courage she never had. She is now strong enough to speak up for herself, and many notice this new side to her. In a sense, it takes Skyla’s damaging relationship with her children to bring about something positive. The feeling their father has for them demonstrates the never-ending effects of a parent’s unconditional love for a child. Even when they were not with him, they were always on his mind.
It is interesting to compare and contrast the different relationships, and the complexities they add to the plot of the story. It seems to me that each relationship is different for Naomi and Owen, and those relationships seem to shape them into the characters they are presented as at the close of the work.
When discussing several works this semester, we have noted a common theme across many. That being, moving from the security of home to fantasy adventures then back to home. This theme has been present in the majority of the books we have read, including: Where the Wild Things Are, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Peter and Wendy, and, the most recent edition to the list, The Phantom Tollbooth. Looking back on Coraline and its entirety, I noticed that this theme holds true yet again.
Thinking of the protagonist in each work, I began to notice how the characters react to the vast difference between reality and fantasy? Looking at young Coraline’s story in particular, I couldn’t help but notice that Milo’s was somewhat parallel. We are presented with a young, rather native character who seems to be uninterested by the world around them. They see reality as dull and mundane, and are constantly seeking adventure, escapes, or an exploration, as Coraline puts it. To take it a bit further, although Milo’s family is never mentioned, Coraline seems somewhat bored with the life her family lives on a day-to-day basis.
It is not until Coraline unlocks the door in the drawing room, and uncovers the “other world” in the empty flat, that she realizes how important the comforts of home really are to her. At first, she seems to be okay with this new territory, entranced by her “other mother” and “other father.” After spending some time there, and coming home to realize her parents are been taken, she realizes that the adventurous fantasies she longed for are not as nice as they appear to be on paper. We talked in class on Tuesday about the argument of using fantasy to escape reality, but I feel as though, for Coraline, it is fantasy that she wishes to escape from. She longs to save her parents, and the three children, from captivity, and resume life in the comforts of her own home.
After putting up quite the fight, she returns home victorious. It is here that I noticed another parallel, specifically to Milo’s return home in The Phantom Tollbooth. Both characters seem more enlightened in a sense. They no longer take the comforts of home for granted. What they would find otherwise dull and unexciting, they view in a new light. When looking out the window, they both notice the beauty of nature and what their world has to offer. I think both these books seem to hone on the fact that sometimes it takes leaving your home to truly appreciate how special it really is. Both characters return more settled, appreciative, and aware of the benefits of their surroundings.
In Charlotte’s Web, the social construction of gender comes to light yet again. It is interesting to note the fact that each work we have looked at thus far has introduced some sort of gender classification, whether it is the maternal role taken on by Wendy, the dominant and brave Peter Pan, or the curious, little girl presented to us in Alice in Wonderland.
The novel opens early morning at the Arable household. Instantly, the children are sculpted into a reader’s typical little girl and boy. Fern is extremely passionate, sympathetic, and playful, while Avery is quite adventurous, walking into the kitchen with an air rifle and wooden dagger. But it is not Avery, or the role of men, that I want to focus on. Rather, the portrayal and classification of women in the work.
E.B. White seems to present two vastly different perceptions of women. First, we have Fern, who, just as Wendy did, takes on a maternal role as she steps up to nurse Wilbur back to health. Immediately, White refers to Wilbur as Fern’s infant, and the reader can somewhat sense that feeling of a mother’s unconditional love for her child. Each day, Fern carries out the typical duties of a mother; warming his milk, feeding him his bottle, putting him to bed, etc. She seems to enjoy this role a great deal. Fern adores Wilbur, as he does her. When it comes time to sell Wilbur, she assures safe placement of him at her Uncle Homer’s farm, where she visits him as often as possible. Although she is not allowed in the pen with Wilbur, she sits on an old milking stool for hours never leaving his side.
Charlotte’s character seems to be constructed to be quite the opposite of Fern’s. With Fern we see a nurturing, loving motherly figure, whereas with Charlotte we see a female with great authority and influence. It is quite ironic that although Charlotte is by far the smallest animal in barn, she seems to be the one calling the shots. She calls meetings, addresses all the animals, etc. Upon forming her friendship with Wilbur, she vows to save his life. Throughout the work, she constructs different phrases in her web to highlight Wilbur, and people begin to think it is sign that he truly is a special pig. She never gives up, even as she begins to fall ill. It is because of Charlotte that Wilbur is awarded a prize at the fair, and therefore goes on to live a long, happy life on the farm. Her dominance, loyalty, intelligence, and leadership make her an exemplary character in the work.
It is interesting to note the different characteristics adopted by Fern and Charlotte. But, as different as they are, they both had a great influence on Wilbur, whether it is his upbringing or the assurance of his safety. Both characters helped shape Wilbur, and I believe it is the combination of their personas that make a great deal of this novel work.