Saturday, December 22, 2007

Class In YA Lit

Sherman Alexie mentioned in a recent speech that "There isn’t a lot of poverty literature in the young-adult world." The Ya Ya Yas noted that, and mused about how class figured in (or didn't) in a recent book.

And, in true blogger fashion, that's inspired a list! There are already a few books in the comments; go and add some, if you can think of any.

Because here's the thing; while my first reaction was "oh of course there are" and my second was "well, he didn't say there wasn't any, just that there wasn't a lot", I do think poverty and economics is an area that isn't always explored in books. Please, go leave suggestions of books at the Ya Ya Ya post. And check out LW's post on books about social class.

As you think about titles, consider this.

If it's a family struggling in the past, is it really about class? Or is the message of the book, people starved back in Little House in the Prairie days, but not now? Or is the message, hardships happen with war, but once the war is over, it'll be OK?

I mention historical fiction type books, because as I began to think of titles I realized many of them were set in the past.

Why is it important for kids to read? I was speaking with a woman about Alexie's book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and she read it, and she was giving it to her teenage granddaughter to read. Why? Because it's a great book; and she also wanted her middle class granddaughter to know that being poor isn't about not having the newest iPod. If a child lives in an affluent suburb, books are one way for them to know that other people live different lives.

On the flip side, as I've mentioned in the past, I had a parent object to Because of Winn Dixie for her 10 year old because she didn't want her child to know that people lived in trailer parks. Note, please, as readers of Winn Dixie know, that it was simply a trailer park. All I can wonder is -- what will happen when this child meets someone who was raised in a trailer park? I find it troubling, especially when the same family had read all the Little House books. Poor in the past, OK. Poor now? Not OK.

Anyway, go over to the Ya Ya Ya's and share some titles!


Robin Brande said...

Hold on. A mother didn't want her daughter to know that people like in trailer parks? Are you kidding me?

I'm really sensitive, too. I don't want to know that there are people who don't want their children to know other people live in trailer parks.

Honestly, what was your response? Did you laugh out loud, or hold it in?

Robin Brande said...

I mean "live," not "like." See how upset I was?

Liz B said...

Heather, my cousin lives in a trailer park in a trailer that is nicer than some people's homes & neighborhoods; that's part of what bewildered me about the trailer park bit -- yes, there are the jokes, but the reality is different.

So it really is more of a class issue than anything else; she didn't want her kids to know that people lived anywhere other than houses. End of story. And I also think this plays into her own ignorance; that she didn't think of trailers beyond, well, the stereotypes of same (so now she is attempting to create the same cycle of willful ignorance with her kids.)

Did she read the whole book? I think not -- otherwise, I can't imagine how she could be bothered by trailer park but not bothered by alcoholic abandoning mother.

Oh, and I agree that in the book, there is nothing negative about where Opal lives; I think there are the grouchy neighbors/landlord, but really, that could happen in any neighborhood association.

Liz B said...

Robin - I just couldn't react, it was so "the hell?" So I was all, oh, let me show you the Betsy Tacy books.

andalucy said...

Thanks for the link. I was just thinking about this the other night when watching the PBS American Masters show "The American Novel." The show looks at how these great novels focus and reflect on the American dream. I tried to think of what might be comparable in YA to Grapes of Wrath, but I could only come up with older ones like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting blog and you're right that a lot of the books that I am familiar with in terms of poverty being an element of the plot are historical fiction or not set in current time. In addition to Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, I am most familiar with Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and the other novels in the series which is set in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Also Sharon Bell Mathis' Teacup Full of Roses is a story about a Black family in inner city New York around the late 60s, early 70s.