During Banned Books Week (September 22-28, 2013), I blogged about my love of reading and my passion for young adult (YA) literature. I shared the number of frequently challenged/banned titles on the YA shelf across from my office shelf and that one of the reasons I enjoy reading those titles is the connection doing so allows me to maintain a connection with my students. You see, I work with a rarified population of gifted girls, some as young as 13, who choose to skip high school and attend college early.
I don’t know if you remember what you read while you were an adolescent, but my teenage years were often dark and existential. Perhaps I never really grew out of that phase…who knows? Several years ago, a student of mine, named Monroe, introduced me to Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Monroe explained that she thought I would really appreciate Hopkins’ work because it was written in verse and the content, though coarse, is real and poignant. Well, how could I refuse after such a recommendation? I immediately ordered the book and read it in one night. I now own every one of Ellen Hopkins’ novels and frequently discuss them with my students and staff members who share similar reading interests.
Interestingly enough, Hopkins made the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century list in both 2010 and 2012. The content of her novels speaks to today’s youth – not in a cajoling manner attempting to ensnare the reader, but rather as an example of one possible reality based on a set of specific choices. Crank was written loosely based upon the details of Hopkins’ own daughter’s experience with crystal meth addiction. The story was so engaging that I could not tear myself away from the pages (and had bags under my eyes for three days afterwards to show for it). Since Crank, Hopkins has written several other novels in free verse covering dark issues in young people’s lives, including prostitution, abuse, suicide, drugs, and neglect.
Most people wonder whether art imitates life or vice versa. For Ellen Hopkins, it is not about imitation. It is about intersection. In 2012, Ellen Hopkins founded Ventana Sierra as a way of helping young people in need, many of whom had aged out of foster care and had no resources. Hopkins and her daughter created a non-profit organization to get young people off the street and into housing and college. According to Hopkins, this is her way of “paying it forward” to her readers as well as creating a better future for those who have the desire, motivation, and drive to succeed…to help others. Participants receive independent living, tuition and books, vocational training, transportation, medical care, and life skills classes for a minimum of two years. It’s the reaching out and giving back to the very young people who could have experienced the issues she writes about that proves the intersection…not imitation.
For more information about Ellen Hopkins, her books, or to read some of the amazing dedications written by those who have been touched by what she has written, please visit her Young Adult web page.
For more information about Ventana Sierra, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization providing independent living, vocational training, and resources to allow disadvantaged youth to further their education toward career goals and become productive members of society…click here to visit their web site.
For more information about the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted (PEG) at Mary Baldwin College, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am always eager to engage in new conversations. Feel free to leave a comment on any of my blog posts or pages or send me an email at email@example.com. All the best!