Primrose’s Voice

Whilst reading One Year in Coal Harbour, I didn’t find too many things which stood out to me in terms of plot and theme, but I found that Primrose, as a character and more significantly, the voice of this novel, really interested me.

Primrose’s vocabulary may or may not be realistic, admittedly. But her vocabulary as well as her narrative storytelling and observations makes Primrose clever, intelligent, self-aware, and most of all allows her to make observant and candid judgments on her surroundings. Unlike what is normally expected of young narrators, Primrose includes herself and her narrative in the “adult world” even more so, arguably, than she does with youth. Again, whether this is realistic or not is up for debate- I mean I’m sure we all feel that we were exceptionally moral, intelligent, and inclusive at that age, and perhaps we were, but Primrose’s narration, voice, and character still feels like an anomaly to me and something I really enjoyed reading. I would also enjoy knowing Primrose, as a side note. Perhaps as an adult reader I am more drawn to her than a ounger person would be, but nonetheless I found her exceptionally charming and endearing.

The way she treated adults, their lives, and their emotions emphasized that they were people too, and not just authority figures. Adults (though curiously, not her parents quite as much) were very present in this novel and Primrose spends a good deal of her story working out the relationships these adults have together and with their respective ideas on Coal Harbour. She makes some pretty poignant conclusions, I figure, and not in a “cutesy” way, but in a way that seemed surprisingly mature for someone her age.

Primrose craves intelligent company, and though she does admit to a longing for a good friend her age, she doesn’t seem at all opposed to hanging out with adults where many of the protagonists in the other novels we studied interacted more or less just with other youth. Though she does find companionship with Ked, she certainly feels bored with Eleanore, who once told her she was weird because she “thought about things” (pg 48).

The adults, too, in this book seemed very inclusive in terms with how they dealt with youth. Everyone treats Primrose with respect, and though she can be ignored by her parents at times, Primrose is largely regarded as just a younger person as opposed to a child.

I like this. I really like this. I like how Primrose and the adults in this novel are dealt with together. I like that the adults sometimes act childishly, and Primrose mature. I want to see more of this in YA fiction because I think it gives youth  a kind of agency and that narrators like Primrose respect a young adult’s thought process, intelligence, and value in a community. It makes young adults part of a bigger picture, and Primrose’s relationship with Jack, Bert, and Evie are valued as her friends, role models, and substitute parents. Again, this kind of inclusive community is something I really liked seeing, because people aren’t just raised by their parents and then form their world view exclusively on their own or with their peers. There is a larger picture, and I think One Year in Coal Harbour captures it.

In terms of readership audience, I do believe this novel is meant for pre-teens, but I think that if it were read to a child they could enjoy it, and that teenagers may understand the nuances and greater vocabulary of the novel. It wasn’t the most exciting novel I have ever read, but I personally want to see more novels like this, or at the very least more narrators like Primrose- wise beyond her years, and 5 times as charming as I’d come to expect of narrators her age.

-Megan A

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Young Adult Literature & The Human Condition

While reading through some of the previous blog posts, I noted the fact that, yes, it does seem that the majority of English majors, especially once you get into 3000-level courses, are also Education majors, and this made me think of something that we explored very briefly at the start of the term – didacticism, and how it functions quite explicitly in children’s literature. For example, fairytales like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White all teach children about gender roles, the dangers of the world, what should be avoided, how boys, and especially girls, should act, usually hinting that the aim of any child should be to behave in a manner that is compliant with their parent’s wishes, and that will one day lead to a very traditional, domestic, married life.

As an English/Education major, I feel like I do spend a lot of time looking for the message that literature is conveying – what is this trying to teach us? What is the moral of this story? What could kids gain from reading this? What I’m learning, however, is that instead of those traditional moral lessons we find ingrained in children’s literature, young adult fiction is often aimed at showing readers what I call the “human condition.” It’s about painting a picture of something that these readers can either relate to, or are interested in enough that they find themselves wanting to read, which helps promote life-long literacy.

I think one of the best examples of the YA genre as painting a picture of the human condition is Boyhood. I know that to some, the movie was dry, and not everyone could relate, but if you’re trying to match your experiences hand in hand with Mason’s, of course you aren’t going to relate. But who didn’t experience a moment of recognition and relation in the scene where they’re decked out in Harry Potter gear waiting for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? I bet anything that I still have my little card with my name written on it that I was handed along with my midnight copy of the book declaring that I was the owner of my very own copy of a very magical book. Boyhood is all about those little moments; little things that we can cling to. The loss of a first relationship, finding something that we’re passionate about, the awkward graduation party, the thrill of starting university. The human experience. Life rises and falls, but there’s no climactic moment where you can say, “okay, denouement is imminent.”

We’re constantly voicing dissatisfaction with the endings of the texts we’re studying. This or that wasn’t resolved, there are still loose ends… That’s the point. Life is unresolved; that’s a part of the human condition. Mason’s journey isn’t ending just because the film ends. Rebee’s story is going to continue when we close that book. We aren’t going to be privy to the rest of Larry’s recovery, but we, and the young adult readers that pick up The Lesser Blessed, are going to take comfort in his acceptance and it’s going to reflect struggles in their own life that they might be encouraged to accept and deal with as a result of a novel’s conclusion that isn’t necessarily wrapped up perfectly with a bow. We don’t know how the conversation about the miscarriage between Rose and her mother goes… we don’t know that it even necessarily happens, but I think we really need to ask ourselves whether we have to know? Can we let it go and fill in the blanks on our own? Because I think we can, and I think that we should, because in that, we’re lending our own experiences and our own interpretations to texts that are so obviously meant to be about creating a relationship with the reader.

– Taryn Rombough

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Is the Graphic Novel Missing Something?

After finishing This One Summer, I wasn’t overly in love with it. Not only am I not a huge fan of graphic novels—which might be because of my limited experience with them—but I felt like it was just kind of missing something from the novels I read and enjoy. I’m not sure why I felt that way especially because after class discussion I went back and enjoyed it much more the second time around. Because I’m not used to the genre I think I got caught up in the text and missed a lot of what the pictures had to offer.

One thing we’ve talked about quite a bit is the usefulness of pictures. Personally I feel like pictures can take away from the text because their either distracting or overlooked. Also it steals away the most personal part of reading a text; the freedom of imagination is definitely lessened in a graphic novel. The characters are all depicted, their facial expression and even the settings are all laid out within the frames. You don’t have to think about how Rose feels about Windy’s dancing, it’s just shown. Similarly, when a movie comes out based on a popular novel some people don’t like the way it was done or who was cast for the parts because that’s not how they imagined it. I think the same type of thing happens in graphic novels except you are never given that freedom to imagine in the first place. I’m not saying that graphic novels are not useful; class discussion has proven they can be great aids especially in regards to weaker readers within the classroom, or even just being able to offer something different. But I think there is something special in novels and using imagination to fill in the holes and give the story a personal quality.

I think that’s why novels like Harry Potter and Hunger Games did so well. The settings and lives of these characters are so unbelievable that, as a reader, they can be as realistic or fantastical as you want. Importantly these novels also deal with a lot of the themes that we have read about in course material. So even though they depict utopian/dystopian societies, the themes and characters experiences can be universal—not everyone is a wizard trying to defeat the dark lord but they can relate to Harry’s school experiences, friendship, love etc. The escape in reading is what appeals most to me and is why I read. Getting to travel to another time and place, meeting new characters, is one of the most exciting things about reading a novel and I hope that aspect is never lost.

Maybe there are aspects in graphic novels that need the imagination but it’s nothing like reading a novel. For me it was more like watching a movie. Yes there were meaningful scenes and important themes, even memorable characters, but everything was laid out on the pages for me. I understand that we can all interpret pictures in different ways based on our cultural experiences but things like character are hard to imagine when they are right in front of you—if it hadn’t been a comic book maybe I would have pictured Windy as a blonde? Even though hair color doesn’t make or break a character.

I am going in to be a teacher like so many of my classmates and I debated while reading it if I would use it in the classroom. While I do think it’s a shame to miss out on creating your own world like one would in a novel, I can’t help thinking this would be useful in the classroom: even if it is just introducing students to a new genre. Variety is never a bad thing. I completely agree with an earlier blog post on why reading is good and why everyone should do it. If someone loves graphic novels, all the power to them! Keep reading! But how would they know that was a genre they loved if they are never introduced to it. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy graphic novels, that’s just my preference, I would never try to discourage reading in any form.

Katelyn P.

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What About the Teachers?

I wanted to talk about the presence of teachers and schools in the novels we have looked at so far. Some of the books have portrayed teachers as a positive influence, some as a negative and some haven’t even mentioned them. The first student teacher relationship I want to talk about is Miss Bel and Rebee. I see this relationship as more of a mother/daughter relationship than a student/teacher relationship. Rebee using Miss Bel as a mother figure while she is at the school and I think the relationship gives Rebee a sense of comfort. I think this is a fair representation of how a student/ teacher relationship could potentially be in the primary grades. Sometimes the only stable adult in a child’s life is their teacher and I think that this book represented that fact very authentically. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call Miss Bel “stable” I think that Rebee benefited greatly from Miss Bel’s willingness to care for her.

This healthy student/teacher relationship is continued in Swimmers and The Crazy Man. In Swimmers, Hunter has his guidance counselor to help him talk through his relationship with Nial even when he parents avoid this. Although he is not technically a teacher, he is associated with the school and I think it puts him into the same category as Miss Bel. Both Rebee and Hunter have adults, other than their parents, who reach out to them in times of need.  I think the relationship differs by how Hunter perceives his counselor. I don’t see this as a strong example of a father/son relationship, but more of a friendship. This is also how I see the relationship between Miss Sadie Tollfsen and Emaline.

Emaline and Miss Tollfsen seem to have a friendship in the novel that pushes Emaline to express herself through her art. I think that this relationship helps Emaline cope with the loss of her dog and her fathers absence. I also think that this encourages Emaline to focus on herself at a time where everything is centered around harvesting, her accident and Angus. This relationship isn’t a mother/daughter relationship because she still has one with her own mother, but it works to further support Emaline as she grows into her own identity.

The reason I am thinking about these relationships stems from a  discussion about what struggling students get from young adult literature. When I say “struggling students” I mean students who may not have the adult support they need at home, or students suffering with depression, anxiety and other ailments that affect their everyday life. Some classmates and I came to the consensus that young adult texts can act as previews into possible solutions in the life of the struggling students. The students read texts that they can relate with and they get to see how the characters choose to cope with similar struggles.

I think portraying these healthy teacher/student relationships is important because it opens up the door for students to seek help within their schools. During this discussion with classmates, majority of them revealed that their counseling services were either underutilized or almost nonexistent. I think that  portraying these positive school relationships more often in young adult literature can take away some of the taboo surrounding mental health. One novel that does a great job of lifting this taboo is Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson. The main character undergoes a trauma that she is unable to talk about for majority of the novel, but in the end it’s a relationship with a teacher that gives her the strength to confront with her problems. I think that showing these positive relationships in young adult literature would allow students to see that seeking help within a school is an option for them.

On the flip-side of this discussion, what ideas would readers get from novels like The Lesser Blessed, where the only teacher mentioned is negatively portrayed? Would this turns students away from reaching out to their teachers? Let me know what you think!

Danielle S.

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To “This One Summer” with love

I have been looking forward to reading “This One Summer” all semester. And it didn’t disappoint! I thought the graphic novel was great. It was creative, funny, and beautiful to look at. I thought I would list a few things that I loved about the text:

  1. Windy and Rose

I thought that both of these characters were great! Individually they were complex and intriguing and together their relationship and interaction with each other was funny, harsh, and sometimes hard to read. I loved how different the girls were from each other because I could always relate to one or the other. At some points, I could totally align myself with Windy (and her awesome dance moves) and other times I just found her to be so annoying. In the same way, at different points of the text I was able to relate to Rose, but not all the time (she was kind of mean at times). There were parts of both characters that I connected with and other parts that pushed me away from them.

  1. The awkward don’t wanna, but gotta look realism

The text brings back so many awkward memories of my pre-teen years. I can remember making the same faces Rose makes and showing my friends my awesome dance moves.  While reading the text, I found it really easy to understand and relate to the main characters because I remember feeling the same way as a kid.

Did I want to go through the experience of reliving my pre-teen years? NO, not really. But, once I got past the awkwardness, it was kind of fun to think back on to the days when M.A.S.H pretty much determined your future. Ultimately my ability to relate to the characters made the book more enjoyable to read.

I loved the way growing up was portrayed in the text.  The graphic novel forced you to yearn for the future, but also to cling to your youth. For example, the scene when Rose and Windy hear noises in the forest. (88-91) This scene shows images of Rose excited to know what’s going on in the forest, while Windy is terrified. I believe that this reflects Rose’s excitement to move to the next stage of her life which is contrasted to Windy who is terrified to take that next step. When reading this scene, I had a hard time picking a side. I did want to know what was happening in the forest, but it was also really creepy. Part of me was saying ‘go in’ and the other part of me was yelling ‘get the hell out of there’.  These feelings of terrifying and unsettling excitement, I think, reflect perfectly what it feels like to become a teenager.

I think the text did a great job accurately portraying this stage of life and the emotions associated with it. The text showed the reality of growing up. It emphasized how teenage years can be awesome and exciting and also awful and terrifying. The contrast between Rose and Windy and the older teens emphasized the issue associated with different life stages.

Besides the pre-teens and teenagers, I also thought it was interesting to read about the adult characters, especially as an adult. I was able to actually see the adult characters interact in scenes, this allowed me to understand them better and form my own opinions about them. This is in contrast to other texts in the course where the adult characters are only shown through the perspective of the child/ young adult character.

3. The art!

No matter what you think of the story I think everyone can agree that the art in ‘This One Summer’ is just awesome. I loved the variety of characters and how each character had such a unique look. Whenever I sit down to read a comic or a graphic novel I am always surprised at how much emotion the pictures can convey.

– Michelle R

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That time I read “That One Summer”, and came away thoroughly ashamed of my original assumption that it was just a ‘picture book for adults’

I picked up “This One Summer”, and by the second page I knew I was going to have a problem putting it down again. I must have a real insight into the crazy maze I call my brain (What a shocker!), because I finished it that night. Considering the fact that it is a graphic novel, I guess some wouldn’t consider that a huge feat. Owning my disagree: I gave myself a pat on the back and then flipped to the beginning to read it all over again, just to take a closer look. I found the artwork of this novel to be refreshing, constricting, freeing, powerful, and a little childish all at once. The characters are drawn with an air of seriousness with a dash of cartoony thrown in- enough to have some delightful leeway with their portrayal (Some of Windy’s expressions are my favorite) while at the same time able to depict them in serious settings.

The two pictures on the top of page 300 were the most poignant for me. Seeing the blood as evidence of what her mother had just experienced and then in the next frame seeing her walk right by her daughter as if everything was normal made me stop. Her mother walked out of that ocean and passed her daughter as if nothing had happened, and then went on to function in the rest of the world, her daughter’s world, while still coming to terms with what her miscarriage (which she clearly hasn’t, not completely, even a year later). This shift in her world is represented in three frames. Nothing is explicitly expressed (there are no graphic depictions, and the word ‘miscarriage isn’t even used) because it doesn’t need to be. They say that big things come in small packages, and the same is true of bad news. It doesn’t always have a dramatic entrance complete with fireworks and explosions, sometimes it just sneaks in subtly and leaves a hole. The representation of the miscarriage and Rose discovering it are equally subtle.

This is why “This One Summer” is one of my favorite texts in the course. It presents realistic material in a way that caters to YA readers. I don’t mean to say its ‘simple’ or ‘childish’, but it’s a lot easier to understand something if there are pictures involved. It cements the concept- probably why so many textbooks include pictures and drawn diagrams. “This One Summer” is hardly that technical, but it gets the point across. YA readers come from many ages and maturity levels, and “This One Summer” tries to make the concept appropriate and accessible for all of them.

Aside from the miscarriage, it offers a look at the dynamics of the family. Not only Rose’s own actions and thoughts, but also the interactions between the parents, and the extended family. Very rarely in this course are parents shown interacting deeply with one another because one is normally absent. In “The Crazy Man”, the protagonist’s father is around for a little bit, but there is no interaction with the mother, even before he leaves. In “Swimmers”, the parents are always encountered during their interactions with their son and not with each other. Rose’s parents fight, yell, and disagree. This is reality. Her dad takes some time away to cool off, she fights with her mom, and this is ‘real’. Arguing with parents is a given of the teenage years, and no set of parents (or couples, for that matter) are completely perfect and never disagree. Especially during such an emotionally traumatic time.

We never see if Rose’s parents get a divorce, or if they get their relationship to a better place. But it isn’t a tragic ending. What we see is some hope: of going back to the beach next summer, having ‘massive boobs’, and a peace offering between her parents in the form of a comforting hand on the shoulder and an offer to drive the first leg of the trip home. It isn’t a ‘happy’ ending, per-say, but isn’t that what we as a class had issues with in regards to “Blink and Caution”? The same goes for the theorists we talked about on March 13th, who were concerned about too many books having unrealistic plots and endings just to serve as entertainment value while misleading teens searching for bibliotherapy?

– Ashley Hardwick

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Young Adult Literature

I have had a difficult time enjoying the novels for this course. I believe that this is because they are

intended for young adults and I have finished exploring that area of literature. I have always read a lot,

but have not read a Young Adult novel since high school. I think these novels are clearly targeted for a

younger audience. I am going to analyze each novel we have read and argue the big theme that makes it

more appropriate for a younger audience, other than the obvious age of characters.

The Shore Girl is a novel about finding place; a topic we have talked about in a lot of the novels.

Finding a place of belonging is a process that all young adults go through. Young adulthood is a time

when you are between places. You have just left elementary school and now have to decide what to do

with your life and have five years to figure it out. High school is a time when young adults are finding

their place, which is why it is such a prominent theme in young adult literature. I feel, as an adult, if I

have not found my place, I have at least found the path towards it. This is what I find Rebee’s situation

in trying to find place something that makes the novel too young for me.

In Swimmers Hunter has to deal with the dramas of friendships. Yes, this is something that is dealt all

ages. However, Hunter’s way of dealing with the problem is something more real to young adults than

to adults, I believe. Hunter deals with Niall by leaving the situation; leaving the entire province behind.

This is something I see more young adults doing: leaving the problem rather than facing it. This is why

I believe the novel is for a younger audience. Hunter’s behaviour is more how a young adult is expected

to behave than an adult.

The Lesser Blessed is full of profanities and sexuality. I found in my years of high school profanities

and sexuality were at the forefront of gossip and discussions between friends. It was all about how

many swear words you knew and who had sex, what kind, etc. The way profanity and sexuality are

brought about in the novel seemed the way young adults dealt with it. As an adult, I find we still do

participate in the use of profanities and sexuality in discussions, but we also know when to be more

professional. The fact that profanities and sexuality was everywhere in the text made it unappealing to

me, but would have appealed to me in high school.

The Crazy Man was the one novel I did enjoy. I think this is because rather than dealing with a theme or

issue that was relevant to young adults, it looked at a historical issue: mental illness. A historical issue

does not belong to just one age, usually, which is why The Crazy Man appeals to all ages. It is the one

exception in this class because it is not a Young Adult novel; it is actually categorized as Children’s

Literature.

Finally, Blink and Caution is a novel driven by the plot. Although adult novels can be plot driven as

well, they usually have more depth. Blink and Caution has no depth; everything is written for the sole

purpose of the plot. I think plot driven novels are especially appealing to young adults because they are

going through a time of struggle in life (as mentioned above the struggle to find place) and plot driven

novels are a form of escape. However, to really enjoy a plot driven novel you need to turn off your

brain. I think that this is what makes it a young adult novel: the ability for young adults to turn of their

brains a lot easier than adults.

This is a class on Canadian Young Adult literature. As such, it is an expectation that these novels are

categorized as Young Adult fiction. We have discussed readership before in the class quite a bit, but I

feel that it is fairly obvious that all these novels are intended for young adults.

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