TLT: Teen Librarian’s Toolbox: Loud and Clear: A Reflection on Teaching SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson in the Classroom (a guest post by author Eric Devine)

Loud and Clear: A Reflection on Teaching SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson in the Classroom (a guest post by author Eric Devine)

As part of the #SVYALit project, we reached out to author Eric Devine and asked him to write.  We wanted to make sure that male voices are heard in the discussion. And he is an awesome writer and teacher. Today he shares with us his experiences of teaching Speak in the classroom.  
The novel Speak is part of my school’s freshman curriculum. It’s the one book I hold onto until the end of the year, because there’s not much selling I need to do with the story, as I have to with To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, etc. The students read and discuss without much prodding from me, and it is during this discussion, two years ago, when the book went from a perfect end-of-the-year novel to detouring into dangerous and alarming territory. My classes discuss the novel in four parts, after each of the marking periods. By the end, they understand the symbolism with the seasons and within Melinda’s artwork. They see the root of Melinda’s chapped lips, the strained relationships within the story, and, of course, her inability to speak about what has occurred.During the discussion after the class had finished the novel, I kept hearing the word responsibility. Now, I had split the class into multiple groups, and it was buzzing through all of them, so I stopped the discussion and said to the class that it sounded as if they were focusing on the responsibility for the rape. They agreed they were. Part of me wishes I had pushed no further, but the majority is glad I asked what I did: “If you had to assign percentages of responsibility for the rape, what would that look like? Create a pie chart for me.”
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The Good and Genetically Modified in Grasshopper Jungle

I don’t typically review books, here, but it felt right to do so, because I’m kind of infatuated with the novel, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, which publishes tomorrow.

I’m fortunate enough to have picked up an Advanced Reader Copy while at ALA Midwinter. Here it is with Summer on the Short Bus, which I intend to review in April:

GJ & Short Bus pic

Grasshopper Jungle is about small town Iowa becoming overrun by genetically engineered praying mantis, resulting in the apocalypse. I know, it sounds crazy, but there’s so much more to it than corn, Iowa, praying mantis, and more corn.

It’s an awesome read about friendship and loyalty, with one extremely flawed protagonist––more on Austin in a minute. However, the story takes its time in developing the central conflict. There are hints of it, but most of the 128 pages prior to things really hitting the fan are filled with exposition and characterization, as well as a mix of secondary conflicts and accounts of history. And horniness.

The protagonist, Austin, is very easily aroused, by everything: his girlfriend, his best friend, situations that make sense for arousal, and those that have no connection to sensuality. Yet, that’s his quirk, which, for me, made him an endearing character, in spite of his gross selfish interest. Really, he says he loves his girlfriend, Shan, and friend, Robby, but he has a very difficult time showing that love. Lust, on the other hand, is no issue for Austin. He’s filled with it. And such a distinction is important for teens to see.

Yet, this combination of delayed action, which most authors (me included) would have concluded the first chapter with, and quite possibly an unlikable protagonist, could make Grasshopper Jungle a difficult read. But part of the undercurrent of the story is very much a Vonnegut-esque rhythm, of the renown “So it goes.” The looping style is part of the point. The story goes where the story goes, and unfolds as it does, without apology. I respect that and hope enough teens will have the patience to first know the characters and then watch them handle the main struggle. And I don’t feel as if we have to love all protagonists from the outset, or even throughout the novel. It’s important to learn from others, who we may not initially be able to relate to, because I can guarantee, on some level, at some point, the connection will occur.

I’ve read reviews of Grasshopper Jungle questioning whether a female protagonist with the same quirk as Austin would be as positively received. It’s a good question. I don’t know if the YA world would be accepting of such, but I kind of feel that they would. Especially those who read Andrew Smith’s work. Winger, another Smith novel, handles homosexuality well, as does Grasshopper Jungle. Austin’s best friend, Robby, is gay, and Austin is…confused. He never labels himself bisexual, which I like, because at the end of the world, do we really need labels? If ever? So a female protagonist, unafraid to voice her desires, might excel, where Austin comes off as comical. Time will tell.

If you like offbeat, layered stories that do not conform to formulas for plot and character, then I suggest you take a chance with Grasshopper Jungle. I guarantee you’ll find yourself wanting to smoke a cigarette before you save the world. “And shit like that.”

Afterthought:

If you follow Andrew Smith on Twitter @marburyjack, he’s been tweeting pictures of excerpts from Grashopper Jungle. Here’s the most important one, from the Acknowledgements, which he may or may not tweet. I cannot imagine Winger or Grasshopper Jungle not existing, so I’m glad he wrote for himself and then let us see.

photo

At a Glance: Six Months of Promo and Events for Dare Me

I have been promoting Dare Me for the past six months. It was fun, exhausting and very rewarding. However, I am glad that the crunch is over. The time and energy it takes is extensive and wreaks havoc on anything else scheduled––you know like the rest of my life 🙂

That’s not a complaint, just a simple fact. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the craziness, and I’m fortunate enough to be doing it all over again for my next novel, which will be released in the fall (details to come).

Therefore, for those of you who might be interested, I’ve outlined all that I did, or that happened regarding Dare Me for half of a year. Many authors do more, and many do less. This is what I did, and I hope it illustrates the business of books on the personal level. Because trust me, if I were to write about the behind-the-scenes work, this post would have to run for a week straight.

July 2013

I didn’t get started until the end of the month, but I kicked things off with a bang, releasing my trailer for Dare Me through a blast, released by over 50 bloggers, worldwide. There was a copy of the novel and a t-shirt giveaway that netted over 5,500 entries. Not bad, right?

Then I wrote an article for one of my favorite librarians and her site Teen Librarian’s Toolbox, titled “Careening with our youth culture“. It’s all about why teens like to do crazy things, and especially why I felt compelled to do some of my own. It was paired with a giveaway, too.

August 2013

August is always busy, and so I only managed to release the flyer for all of my scheduled events for Dare Me. I put it on Scribd, which made sharing so easy.

September

My publisher printed 200 copies of those same flyers I posted to Scribd and I sent them to local high schools at the start of the school year.

Then I had my Dear Teen Me letter posted. Go read it, if you haven’t. It’s awesome.

I then held my first signing at Market Block Books.

October

Dare Me was published in October, so things got cooking. I was interviewed by our local WNYT affiliate, and then held these signings and events:

Signing @   Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library

Signing and panel discussion Troy Author Day @ Troy Public Library

Signing @ Barnes & Noble:  Saratoga Springs

Release party & Signing @ McGreivey’s Restaurant

During this time I also ran a five-day giveaway for Dare Me as a build up to the publishing day.

I also received this awesome review from Kirkus

November

I was interviewed by Kori Miller of Back Porch Writer for her podcast. It was a blast, and if you have a half hour, go listen.

Awesomeness hit in November when I went to NCTE. I signed copies of Dare Me and met English teachers from around the country. A couple of my colleagues even showed up, which was so nice. And then I met a few authors whose work I love, and I even got my picture taken with A.S. King.

December

The last month of the year started out fantastic with both the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune selecting Dare Me for their holiday books gift guides for Young Adults.

Then I got to use my author status for some good by participating in a signing/fundraiser for the High School I work for at another, local Barnes and Noble. If you have kids or are an author and teacher like me, contact B&N and set up a Book Fair. So simple, yet so effective.

January

The American Library Association’s Widwinter Meeting was held in Philadelphia this year, home of my publisher, Running Press. Therefore, I got to go to the city of brotherly love, sign, meet awesome librarians, and then have a blast wining and dining with everyone from Running Press and some of my pub siblings. I even met Daniel Kraus while at our cocktail party. I refrained from getting all fanboy and we had an awesome chat.

For the duration

I ran four giveaways at Goodreads, at various times throughout these six months. I now have only two copies of those I receive from my publisher left. But it was worth it, as close to 2,500 people entered the giveaways and, therefore, have Dare Me on their radar.

Now

Phew. That was a lot. Or maybe it was just enough. Possibly there was more I could have done. I have no idea, because that’s the impossibility of any business. Some analytics cannot be measured.

So what matters to me are the answers to these questions:

Did I have fun? Yes.

Did all of this enrich my life? Yes.

Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

And I will, in another six months. Be sure to join me, and thank you if you did this time around.