Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: Using YA Lit to Talk Government, Power, Politics, Corruption and More (An #SJYALit Book List)

A few years ago, I believe it was Cory Doctorow who Tweeted that no one discusses politics in literature anymore. Which struck me, at the time, as an odd statement because it was the height of YA Dystopian, which arguably is all about power and politics. It could also have been someone other then Cory Doctorow, for the record, I’ve just always remembered the tweet as being from him, and we all know that memory is a trickster god.

But since then, I have often read books with that tweet in the background of my mind, unconsciously noting books that I thought fit the bill. And now, more then ever, it seems particularly important that books talk about politics. I’m not just talking about the 2016 election, I’m talking about the way the North Carolina GOP just in effect executed a coup by stripping the incoming Democratic governor of any real power. Of the way our elected representatives remain silent about the fact that 17 intelligence agencies have stated that Russia has had undo influence on our recent government and election. Of the way that legislators just quietly made the investigation into Flint go away or the way that Governor Kasich of Ohio just signed a bill making it illegal for local governments to raise the minimum wage. I’m talking about the fact that we go into the next administration with effectively no checks and balances because for the first time in years all three arms of our federal government are now in the control of only one political party, thanks in no small part to things like gerrymandering and the repeal of voter rights acts.

Now more then ever – although we can argue that it is in fact too late – we need to be talking about politics and democracy and government with our teens. In fact, in the next presidential election, my teen will be able to vote. So we talk about it.  We read about it. And here are 5 books and series that I recommend to get teens reading and thinking about power, politics, government, corruption and more.

This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

In a small town, a group of privileged, elite teen boys goes hunting. One of them does not come back. Because of power and influence, the case of the River Point Five is given to a district attorney with the expectation that he will lose. But Kate Marino is an intern that works for him and she challenges him to pursue justice and the truth, so he does. This is a compelling read that shows you how guilty people go free and the innocent can go to jail for crimes they didn’t commit. Overall, it’s a good read. My only quibble with the book is that this intelligent and driven teenage girl compromises things because she “falls in love” with one of the suspects, which is annoying, but it’s still a powerful look at the themes being discussed. The Teen also read this book because she said, I really want to read a mystery and so I handed her this book, here’s what she thought:

a1

The Fixer series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

gov1

Tess Kendrick finds out that her sister is not who she seems to be, in a lot of ways. Her sister is, in fact, a fixer. This means that she covers up the dirt in Washington. Scandals disappear, murders look like suicides, and more as we get an inside look at how people in power scheme, make power plays, and manipulate what the public sees and thinks about people and politics. I’ve read books 1 and 2 in this series and they are so good. Also, book 2 gives you a real sucker punch to the gut. Because this is Jennifer Lynn Barnes these are fun and engaging reads, but there are also strong female leads, meaningful conversations about important topics, and a lot of good quips. It’s interesting to note that some people in politics are called “King Makers” because it is said that they have the power to make and break kings. You’ll definitely want to check this series out. The Teen read and loves this book as well.

Publisher’s Book description:

This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars.

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.

Embassy Row series by Ally Carter

gov2

Grace Blakely goes to live on Embassy Row with her grandfather, a place where politics is everything. Here, families from countries all over live in close proximity to one another and how you act, where you go, and what you say matters – the slightest misstep could start a new war. It is here that Grace begins to learn more about her mother’s murder. It is also here that Grace begins to learn more about politics, power and corruption. On the one level, these are just teens who want to do the things that teenagers do, but they can’t just be teens because their actions have never had so much consequence. I love both The Heist Society and the Gallagher Girls series, and this one does not disappoint.

Publisher’s Book Description

A new series of global proportions — from master of intrigue, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Ally Carter.

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:

1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her — so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.

Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace — no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

gov3

Monsters are real. In fact, monsters are born out of our violence. Two opposing cities sit near each other, in the midst of a delicate truce. But there are unseen things in place that are working to upset that delicate truce. There are factions that seek to force the other party to break the truce so that a war can be declared and the monsters can reign supreme. I love this book. I love how it takes the mythology of monsters and makes it something new, I love how it puts our humanity next to the monsters and asks us to question which one is truly evil, and I love the way it takes this really creative premise and uses it to examine power and corruption in politics.

Publisher’s Book Description

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

gov4

A luxury yacht is gone, and there are very few survivors. Some people want to hide the truth of what happened – and why. Frances Mace knows the truth, and there are some people who will go to any length to keep her silent. I picked up this book because I am a fan of Ryan’s zombie series, and I was surprised by this book; It was the first book I read on this list and it made me go hmmm, that’s a really interesting look at the world of political influence for teens. So I end this list by the first book that got me compiling this list in my head. I know there are others, so what titles do you recommend? Please add yours in the comments. I think it’s really important that we get teens reading books like these and thinking about what’s happening behind the scenes in their local, state and federal government.

Publisher’s Book Description

I’m the daughter of murdered parents.
I’m the friend of a dead girl.
I’m the lover of my enemy.
And I will have my revenge.

In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story—and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.

Sharp and incisive, Daughter of Deep Silence by bestselling author Carrie Ryan is a deliciously smart revenge thriller that examines perceptions of identity, love, and the lengths to which one girl is willing to go when she thinks she has nothing to lose.

P.S., Cory Doctorow is, of course, a great author that you should be reading on this topic as well.

The Fixer Blog Tour: The Science of Fiction, a guest post by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

FIXER3

 

We are happy to welcome Jennifer Lynn Barnes to TLT today. She’s stopping by on the blog tour for her new novel, THE FIXER (published 7/7/2015 from Bloomsbury USA). 

 

The Science of Fiction 

One of the questions I get a lot as a writer who has a double life as a psychology professor studying the science of books, movies, and television shows is whether or not my work looking at the psychology of stories affects the way I write them. And the answer is that everything I learn about the power of stories from a scientific standpoint changes the way I write. So I thought I’d take the FIXER blog tour as an opportunity to give readers a look into the way my scientist and writer selves work together when I sit down to write a new book.

 

Part Four: The Peak-End Effect

There’s a famous experiment that looks at people’s perceptions of pain. The gist of the experiment goes something like this. In one condition, people are asked to put their hands in painfully cold water for sixty seconds. In the other condition, they’re asked to put their hands in painfully cold water for sixty seconds and then to put their hands in slightly less cold, but still painful water for another thirty seconds. Afterward, they’re asked which of the two experiences they would rather repeat. Logically, the answer should be the first one—it’s identical to the second, except that it has thirty second less pain at the end.

But that’s not what people choose.

People prefer the second option. The one with more pain. Why? Because it ends on a better note. You get similar results with positive experiences: everything else being equal, people prefer the thing that ended on a higher note. In fact, there’s reason to believe that when we evaluate experiences, we’re really only evaluating two things: the most intense moment and the last moment. This is called the Peak-End effect.

What does that mean for writers and readers? Well, one thing that it suggests—to me—is that if you’re writing comedy, it’s more important to have one super hilarious laugh-until-you-cry moment than it is have to have a ton of different moments that make people chuckle. If you’re writing tragedy, making someone sob hard once is going to leave more of an impression than making them tear up a dozen different times. If you’re going for plot twists, one HUGE surprise will have more of an impact than a dozen tiny ones. And if you can stack two HUGE surprises close enough together that they encode as a single moment, all the better. When readers look back on the reading experience, by and large, they’re going to evaluate that experience based on the most intense moment and the last moment.

Knowing this, I spend a lot of time as a writer asking myself “What are the most intense moments in this book?” and “how should this book end?” When I sat down to write The Fixer, there was one moment that stuck out in my head, one that I knew from the very beginning would be one of the most emotionally intense scenes in the entire book. That was the moment that made me want to write the book. That was the moment that made me want to understand these characters. But ultimately, even though each reader is going to evaluate the book largely based on the most intense point and the last point, as a writer, I also know that one big moment and a good ending isn’t enough. Different readers can and do have different reactions to the same scenes, so that intense, defining moment may well be different for each person, and part of creating an intense reading experience is the way that intense moments build on each other. So the challenge, as I sat down to write The Fixer, knowing that I was building to a very specific scene, was to figure out what my other big moments were. They had to be surprising. They had to pack an emotional punch. They had to involve characters we cared about. And they all had to build to an ending that did everything I wanted that ending to do—including setting the stage for book two.

For me, a lot of this happens in revision. Three or four of the biggest, most intense moments in The Fixer weren’t there in the first draft. In fact, other than The Moment That I Always Knew I Was Going to Write, I’m not sure any of the biggest emotional, plot twisty moments were in my first draft. For me, the purpose of revision is to make sure that every scene is doing multiple things, that instead of having SURPRISING MOMENTS and EMOTIONAL MOMENTS, my big plot twist moments are my big emotional moments.

And those moments are brought to you by the Peak-End effect.

 

Further Reading

Do, A. M., Rupert, A. V., & Wolford, G. (2008). Evaluations of pleasurable experiences: The peak-end rule. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(1), 96-98.

Kahneman, D., Fredrickson, B. L., Schreiber, C. A., & Redelmeier, D. A. (1993). When more pain is preferred to less: Adding a better end. Psychological science, 4(6), 401-405.

 

 

FIXERAbout THE FIXER:

When sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick is sent to live with her older sister, Ivy, she has no idea that the infamous Ivy Kendrick is Washington D.C.’s #1 “fixer,” known for making politicians’ scandals go away for a price. No sooner does Tess enroll at Hardwicke Academy than she unwittingly follows in her sister’s footsteps and becomes D.C.’s premier high school fixer, solving problems for elite teens.

Secrets pile up as each sister lives a double life. . . . until their worlds come crashing together and Tess finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy with one of her classmates and a client of Ivy’s. Suddenly, there is much more on the line than good grades, money, or politics, and the price for this fix might be more than Tess is willing to pay.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for more in this exciting new series.

 

FIXER2About Jennifer Lynn Barnes:

Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written several acclaimed young adult novels, including the Raised by Wolves and the Naturals series. She has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science. She received her PhD from Yale University and is now a professor in psychology.
www.jenniferlynnbarnes.com
@jenlynnbarnes