Teen Librarian Toolbox
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The Poe in me: ya lit inspired by Edgar Allan Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,. . .” – The Raven

Most teens get a wad of cash when they graduate high school, and some of them do smart things with them.  I, however, went the next day and bought 1) the ugliest flower shirt known to man, 2) The Whole Story on CD by Kate Bush and 3) The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe.  I love Poe so much that when I found out I was pregnant with my first and second daughter, I wanted to name her Annabelle Lee.  The Mr., however, had something against naming his daughters after dead girls in poetry.  But this – right now – is a great time of year for all things Poe so I bring you books inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.  (I wish I still had that ugly shirt and I would take a pic of me wearing it and holding my Poe anthology, but Poe was ruined in the great flood of 2011 and no one would still own that shirt.)

Steampunk Poe
First, you’ll want to make sure that your teens have access to some of the original works themselves.  But you don’t want no boring stories, which is why you should get Steampunk Poe.  Here the original works of Poe are presented with some very cook Steampunk pictures. (Published October 4th 2011 by Running Press Teens) (ISBN 9780762441921)

“TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad?”  – The Tell Tale Heart

“There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion, even by the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.”  – Masque of the Red Death, Poe

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
This is a stinking dark and brillian re-imagining of the original Poe story.  This time, Griffin presents us with a dystopian future in which a plague roams the land.  In this dark underbelly of a world, Griffin excels in creating an atosmphere that is so oppressive, you feel like you can cut through it with a knife.  Masque of the Red Death is a great addition to this post on epidemics in ya lit. (Published April 24th 2012 by Greenwillow Books) (ISBN 9780062107794)

“Ghastly, grim, and ancient Raven, wandering from the Nightly shore,– Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore! Quoth the Raven “Nevermore!”” – The Raven

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
Isobel finds herself drawn to the strange and aloof Varen and the image of Edgar Allan Poe that he draws in his journals.  These drawings seem almost to come to life; and Poe’s world is a world you wouldn’t want to find yourself in. (published August 31st 2010 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers) (ISBN13: 9781442402003)  ils…

“I know not how it was–but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.” – The Fall of the House of Usher

Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
Michael is invited to spend Christmas with a guardian in a desolate house.  As Michael wanders the halls of the desolate home he learns that lonely doesn’t always mean alone and even houses have secrets. An homage to The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. (Published October 4th 2010 by Bloomsbury UK) (ISBN 9781408800133)

“That is another of your odd notions,” said the Prefect, who had a fashion of calling every thing “odd” that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of “oddities.”  – The Purloined Letter

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Many teens will not know this, but Poe is actually the originator of the modern day detective story (The Purloined Letter), which is why the Edgar Awards for Mystery is named after him.  In The Name of the Star, Johnson created a gothic mystery that would make Poe proud.  Although it appears that a modern day Jack the Ripper is roaming the streets of London, the truth is even more terrifying than Rory can even imagine. (Published September 29th 2011 by Putnam Juvenile) (ISBN 9780399256608)

And Two Titles Coming Soon . . .

“For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; ” – Annabel Lee
Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey
Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever.
With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make a wager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer. Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling poem Annabel Lee, Mary Lindsey creates a frighteningly beautiful gothic novel that glorifies the power of true love. (Expected publication June 27, 2013 from Philomel/Penguin)

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

NYT Bestselling author of THE HOLLOW series, Jessica Verday’s OF MONSTERS AND MADNESS, a series of romantic YA Gothic thrillers inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as told by Annabel Lee, a young girl who moves to Philadelphia in 1826 to live with her father and discovers that he may be implicated in a series of murders across the city, and only she can prove his innocence and protect him from the true evil he has created in his basement lab, to Alison Weiss at Egmont, at auction, for publication in fall 2014, by Mollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media.
Foreign: Rachel Hecht, rhecht@foundrymedia.com
Using Poe in the Classroom/Library
  • Read a Poe story and a ya lit book based on or inspired by said story and discuss
  • Have teens chose a Poe short story and write their own inspired by version
  • Study more at poestories.com
What other Poe inspired YA Lit is out there? Add to our list in the comments please.

Trend Watch: Contagion

What’s next on the Trendwatch? Contagions!  Suddenly in the ya books I’m reading communities – and countries – are being taken down by the age old arch nemesis of mankind: the virus.

Caution: While reading these titles please report any sudden coughing, sneezing or itching to the local authorities.  In order to prevent the spread of contagion, please wear appropriate protective gear and remember to wash your hands.  Any person showing any signs of contagion must report those signs immediately. Happy reading.

In Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas, previously reviewed by Stephanie Wilkes, teens carry a virus that kills all the adults and find themselves quarantined in the high school.  Like in Lord of the Flies, the survival instinct takes over and the teen’s go all gangster’s paradise on each other.  Daniel Kraus recently reviewed Quarantine for Booklist and points out that there are shocking moments of ultraviolence, but as these contagion books point out the looming threat of biological contamination does not bring out the best in human nature. (Total side note: Quarantine shows a rich, complicated relationship between brothers and does a great job of depicting a character with Epilepsy and showing how vulnerable this makes him in this situation.  I also appreciated how the MC made some important decisions to help others even though it cost him a lot.)

In Starters by Lissa Price, previously reviewed by me, everyone who didn’t get the vaccine for a life taking diseases has been wiped off the face of the planets leaving in its wake a new caste system that leaves young people scrambling for survival.  It also creates an illegal black market for technological body snatching.  There are only two groups of people now: starters and enders.  (Look for the companion novel, Enders, coming out in the fall.)

In Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, a plague hangs over the land with a darkness that hangs over the land like a thick, oppressive fog.  With Masque, Griffin creates a world so darkly macabre that Poe himself would be jealous with envy.  This is a twisted world where your only hope of salvation is a specialized mask and like all good capitalist societies, the pursuit of the almighty dollar is placed above the welfare of the people.  There are twisted underground leaders, dying people lining the streets, possible mad scientists, and a superbly menacing crocodile scene.

Then last night I finished reading The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe.  Here, 16-year-old Kaelyn writes in a journal to her best friend on the mainland from her island paradise.  It begins slowly and innocently, an itch under your skin, a cough, a sneeze.  Then all inhibitions break down and you are being incredibly frank with the people around you, sharing how you really feel with no holding back or nod to the polite rules of society.  And then – you die.  As it becomes clear that this is a deadly outbreak, the government comes in and quarantines the island.  One by one the people around you die, schools are closed, society breaks down, and you are trying to find away to make sure you stay safe. 

I appreciated in this contagion tale the way some of the characters – some of the teens – really rose to the occasion and tried to find ways to help others and selflessly do what is good and noble.  Whereas in Quarantine you see teens immediately devolving into reckless survival mode, in The Way We Fall you see thoughtful, introspective teens looking out to continue community.  Not all of them, of course, because if we have learned anything – it’s that the end of the world brings out the worst in human nature.  They are different books telling different stories, each effective in their own ways.

Like with dystopian fiction, you find yourself reading these tales of contagion and putting together your survival kit in your head.  While reading The Way We Fall I developed phantom itches.  At least, I hope they were phantom itches.  So grab a book – and a face mask – and snuggle in for an eerie read about microbes gone rogue.

Do you have any contagion titles you have read recently to add to the 2012 Trend Watch? And what did you think of these ones?  You can view the other trends here.

Trend Watch: Darkness Ruled the Land

Today I take off my librarian hat and set it aside.  I want to talk to you as a reader.  As a fan.  In particular, I want to talk about three very specific books: Masque of the Read Death by Bethany Griffin, Rotters by Daniel Kraus and Embrace by Jessica Shirvington.  These are all each, in their own way, dark, dark books.  The kind of books that haunt you.  And I just, well, need to talk about them.  So come talk about them with me.
Please note: you read this post at your own risk – spoilers abound! (You have to read that spoiler warning with a dark and sinister voice in your head. And maybe add in a “mwahahaha” and twirl your mustache.)

We begin our journey in a world haunted by plague and inspired by Poe: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin.  This is seriously a dark book.  There is such an oppressive darkness cast over this world that it truly haunts you as a reader.  Griffin was clearly inspired by Poe and succeeds in creating a work that would make him proud. This is a world haunted by a deadly plague, constant fear of contamination creates a stifling environment of fear and desperation: Darkness. We eat in it, talk in it, we sleep in humid darkness, wrapped in blankets.  There is never really enough light in this basement, not if you truly want to see. (Masque of the Read Death, page 13 in the ARC).  In terms of atmosphere, Griffin succeeds in flying colors of red to build a world so dark it is hard to imagine the sun even still shines.

Herein, though, is the thing that bothers me.  You see, there is a love triangle.  Our main character, Araby, is pursued by two men.  Will, is the bouncer at the Debauchery Club who checks to make sure you are free of the contagion before you can enter its premises.  Elliott is the brother of her best friend, the twisted leader of a group that is seeking to regain control of the land from an even more twisted leader who happens to be his uncle.  Elliott is a deeply complex character, haunted.  And yet Elliott is a sinister presence with what often comes across as self serving motives. Somehow, it seems that Araby is sometimes considering the possibility that she could fall in love with him.  Granted, this is of course all up in the air at the end of book one.  But as a reader, I had a hard time understanding how he could even be a possibility, how you could overlook the clearly dangerous tendencies that coursed through his veins.

In comparison, Will seemed like a hard working, selfless young man trying to survive in a twisty world.  In the end, he makes a decision with horrific ramifications for our heroine, but to be fair – it is done out of what I consider to be reasonable duress.  Am I wrong to look at this underlying motive and so easily forgive him his actions?

In the end, I feel that Griffin accomplished what she set out to do as a storyteller.  When you turn the last page of Masque of the Red Death, the darkness lingers, questions hang thickly in the air, and you hope young Araby will finally forgive herself and allow herself to live more fully in the world.  Although to be honest, there does sometimes seem to be little reason to, especially as a new more deadly plague sweeps across the land.  But this post doesn’t give justice to the world building and character development that occurs in Masque. When I say it is dark, I mean it is epically dark in really satifsying ways.  And twisted.  But again, twisted in epically satisfying ways.  Also, it should be noted, that MotRD is a good addition to the popular Steampunk genre.  So if you are looking for dark and twisty, this read is definitely for you.  And then come back and talk to me about Elliott.

As dark as Masque of the Red Death is, I wonder if it will haunt me as much as Rotters by Daniel Kraus does to this day – and it has been more than a year since I read it.  Rotters is the story of Joey, who eventually becomes a grave robber.  Yes, I really did say a grave robber.  I recently had a mini-Tweet chat with Kraus and asked him, “what makes you wake up one morning and say – I’m going to write a book about grave robbing?”  His response was that it took him about “3,000 mornings” before he was truly comfortable saying that.

At the beginning of Rotters, Joey’s mother dies and he sent to live with a father he has never known.  He arrives, alone, in the middle of the night to a house with no electricity, little food, and a man with a hostile disposition.  Slowly Joey gets drawn into a world where he and his father sneak out into the middle of the night and rob graves in order to sell their wares and survive.  It turns out that there is a highly intricate world of grave robbers with established territories, grudges to bear and axes to grind. 

As Joey slips into the dark and dirty world of grave robbing, he finds himself an outcast among his peers.  At one point Joey does an act so haunting to get back at his schoolmates for the constant bullying and taunting, you wonder what kind of nightmares Kraus could possibly have to think up such scenes.  In fact, I admire this act of boldness on the part of Kraus as an author because he does the unthinkable: he takes a likable character and turns him into an unlikable one.  Joey’s slow descent into this world is an interesting read, albeit a disturbing one.

So what’s my issue with this one, you ask?  I can’t help but think that Children’s Services would act differently then they do in the real world then they do in Rotters – at least I genuinely hope that they would – and that if they did, they could have changed the course of Joey’s story arc.  Of course, that wouldn’t work for the story.  But would children’s services really put him on a bus to arrive late at night to live with a man he has never met?  And would there be the lack of follow-up that occurs in this story?  One genuinely hopes not.

In the end, Rotters is also another example of successful storytelling.  I cared about Joey and was angry about his descent into the character he becomes and was thankful for the possibility of hope in the end.  I appreciated the world building that occurred in the development of the grave robbing world.  I wondered how true to life it was and what kind of research Kraus did for this story (he was vague in our mini-Tweet chat.)  It is a book I still think a lot about.  It truly haunts me.  (There is information about Rotters at the Randombuzzers page.)

Our final dark tale revolves around the world of fallen angels, definitely not new to teen lit.  SPOILER ALERT! Embrace by Jessica Shirvington is the story of Violet Eden, who eventually finds out she is some type of angel.  In this world there is a hierarchy.  She is pursued by two men, Michael and Phoenix.  Phoenix falls somewhere on the hierarchy and has a special ability: he is an empath.  This means that he can in effect push his feeling onto others as well as feel what they are feeling.  He is also the source of my issue. 

You see, to me, the ability to mess with someone’s thoughts and feelings is the greatest violation I can imagine – and this does not go unspoken in the book.  But what does happen is that at one point Phoenix and Violet have sex and it is never clear to me, as a reader, if Violet does this of her own free will or if Phoenix is somehow enhances her desire by using his ability.  If he is, then isn’t that basically rape?  If Violet is not fully consenting of her own free will – if he is in any way using his powers to even enhance her feelings – then it would be rape.  I wish, as a reader and as a teen librarian, that there would have been more discussion about this concept in the book.  I wish that they had used the word rape.  At the end of this book, which is book 1, Violet does recognize that Phoenix’s ability to influence her is a bad thing and she walks away from him – which I appreciated as both a reader and as a librarian.  But this issue of rape is a question that I would really like to discuss.  Have you read it?  What do you think?

In the end, I think that all three titles are well written books that are successful in telling the stories they set out to tell.  I think those that like to read a dark book – and I am one of those people – will be satisfied readers – and I was.  I think that Masque of the Red Death and Rotters tell unique stories. They present interesting, complex characters that are not always likable or – I hope – relatable.  They are truly interesting entries into the world of the macabre. And I think that fans of angel stories will be satisfied with Embrace; in many ways Violet is a strong female character that brings Buffy the Vampire Slayer to mind.  These are all definitely for the more mature end of the YA spectrum.

So, have you read any of these titles?  What did you think?