We had two interesting presentations…

in Gothic today on Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl. The first, on food theory and culture, considered the ways in which the body’s (in)ability to take in food reflects its relationship with, and resistance to political and cultural structures external to the body.  Considering food as other, as abject, and as cultural object seems an interesting reading subject (one in which I’m personally interested given my own body’s  occasionally hostile relationship to food). Shall have to look more at this theory over Christmas break.

The other presentation was on the ability of the child’s body to resist and disrupt cultural structures, and reminded me that what children read and know are not trivial.  This presentation also reminded me why I like to read young adult and children’s literature.

I finished two of Ellen Hopkins’s works, Crank and Tricks, this week. Both are free verse poems, the former on the subject of teenage meth addiction, the latter on adolescent prostitution.  The latter is, I think, the better read: it’s five interweaving narratives allow Hopkins to explore the different circumstances from which children end up prostituting themselves (and the different ways in which one can be a prostitute), as well as the common arguments both for and against prostitution. The whole text is nuanced and frightening. Crank is less effective: Hopkins writes through her own daughter’s experience of meth addiction, which gives her an authoritative voice on the matter, I suppose, but her desire to steer her readers away from substance abuse ultimately makes the novel, by the end, too incredibly hyperbolic: a bit too much of an “it could happen to you” story, and one which I think, carries the possibility of being too transparent (and capable of being dismissed), or too sensational and voyeuristic.

I read two other free verse novels for young adults: Melanie Little’s The Apprentice’s Masterpiece and Francesca Lia Block’s Psyche in a Dress. The former writes on the Spanish Inquisition and is excellently researched, sad, and reminded me (again) of the importance of literature and literacy. The latter adopts myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to a contemporary Californian suburbia, and comments on the ideals of love, romance, and beauty with which young girls struggle.

All of these texts painful to read in some way, but they treat the experiences  of children and young adults seriously — and treat the pain which results from those experiences as equally serious, and worth discussing.

Next on the reading list are Oates’s After the Wreck and Rosoff’s The Bride’s Farewell. And Mick Jackson and Gogol. And finishing Raymond Williams (amongst other texts for my final papers).

4 December 2009 ~ Hamilton

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