Martine Leavitt’s My Book of Life by Angel

mybookoflifebyangelLeavitt, Martine. My Book of Life by Angel. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2012. Print.

Genre: YA novel in verse

Summary: A diary written in verse from the point of view of a prostitute in Toronto. Angel is young and hooked on drugs. Her pimp, Call, abuses her mentally and tries to keep her hooked on “candy.” When Call abducts a small child and tries to entrap her in the same life of degradation, Angel fights back to save the child and herself.

Critique: Powerful verses are the result of manymanymany revisions. (I know. I got to see the many stacks of attempted manuscripts Leavitt thudded on a table during a lecture.) The writing always honors Angel’s worldview by admiring or describing events in shoe-savvy and drug-draped metaphors and similes. Furthermore, it honors the many Angels on the streets Leavitt met while researching this book. The tension builds to a fever pitch every time Angel has to go off with a guy and do the business. Will she die? Is this man the infamous Mr. P who murders prostitutes? Will she escape from Call and return Meli to her family? It knots the stomach!

 

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Chrysalis and Entropy: A Celebration of Adolescence

(Migrated post. Content originally published 10/2013 on jennifermichellemason.blogpsot.com.)

I have a monthly Google calendar reminder to check on several interesting children’s/YA publishing industry related blogs. Actually, I have many calendar reminders set to pretty much boss me around day-to-day and month-to-month. Many of the tasks I set up on a revolving basis are treats. Like writing 2,000 words each day. I love that one and it pops up first thing every morning at 8 a.m.

Others pop up and I scoff and send my eyes in search of the top-most textures of my head. Checking those blogs, I admit, can sometimes be a scoff-task. But this time around, I came across the following video on the Carolrhoda Lab, and it made me clap and cheer!

The footage reveals a large group of very young musicians totally rocking out. And the short blog post accompanying the video on the Carolrhoda site praises young folks for doing intricate, complicated, and spectacular things!

And the post+video made me cheer out loud not only because it is true, but also because it encapsulated my philosophy and methodology in writing for adolescent audiences.

Manymanymany novels out on the retail shelves depict teens coping with, causing, and sometimes solving drastic, catastrophic, world-bending events. And in the midst of all that hubbub, they intermingle elements of the adolescent experience. Puberty. Relationships. Dermatological disasters. Family drama. Love.

Books that exhibit this approach include Those That Wake, The Hunger Games trilogy, or the Divergent trilogy. 

And on its own, that approach sounds perfectly respectable. It certainly hasn’t cost any of those authors any profits. There is, after all, a world with teenagers in it.

But the-world-with-teens paradigm does a disservice to the adolescent experience. From the vantage of a teen, there is, first, exhilarating chaos within the body, then exquisite madness beyond the body. It’s more like there are teens with a world around them. 

Sounds neurotic? Self-centered? Maybe even a little narcissistic? Well, that’s because it is…and what the hell’s wrong with that? The neurology of the adolescent brain resembles a rain forest feasting on Miracle-Gro. The heart is simultaneously shredded and nourished by hormones that swell and crash with more force than a thousand tsunamis.

The lyrics of Tool’s song in the video above encapsulate precisely the teens-with-a-world paradigm. “Change is coming through my shadow….” “My shadow’s shedding skin….” “Change is coming through….”

entropy

The song depicts the itchy, uncomfortable, scabby, bloody process of growing up — that epic war between entropy and chrysalis. The childlike husk of the self erodes while the new but-not-fully-formed shroud of the teen emerges.

I maintain that when it comes to writing YA, the metamorphosis a child goes through while “growing up” is substantially more important than evil forces scheming to take over the world, dystopian governments, or even, the apocalypse! Make no mistake: the primacy of the experience receives no short shrift in a novel like Martine Leavitt’s The Book of Life by Angel or in any John Green novel (include any novel considered kith and kin to Green and Leavitt). But I suspect that a “genre” or “spec-fic” writer is just as capable as the real world chronicler when it comes cocoonto depicting adolescence

When I write, I seek to celebrate the complexity and profundity of teenage ability and creativity. Beyond that, I strive to honor the glory, the pain, the horror, and the beauty of adolescence.