Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Testimonial to Metro State University Class LIT332 with Adela Peskorz, the Wonder Professor

The past fourteen blog posts have been the result of a class at Metro State University, LIT332, adolescent literature. I have another blog, Words and Wind Move Me, where I had already been blogging on YA, but the class required me to start a new one and close the privacy settings. This blog is the result, and I like the name better. I think it will come up on search engines more frequently. Now that the class is closed, I have secured permission to take this blog public.

Being an aspiring writer of the genre, and having it be my go-to for a good read, I already felt I knew much about YA, so I thought LIT 332 was going to be a cakewalk. I have to confess, it was not an easy road; there was a ton of work. But looking back, I can’t imagine where I would trim anything out. When you do finally cross the end of the semester finish line, not only are you proud of yourself, but you know you are made of sterner stuff; you have developed a core that previously lacked, a strength now honed to a fine point. You feel invigorated and ready to take on anything. 

The course was so well-crafted and honed, everything we read, wrote and discussed funneled masterfully into our final group project. It was like listening to a symphony of perfect notes racing toward their crescendo. The challenge -- of teasing out which YA book possessed the most essential qualities of the Young Adult canon to deserve our award -- was one I feel we raced wholeheartedly to meet. 

The course was both a pleasure and an honor to share part in. I feel forever altered by it, and know it has set me firmly on the path to a future within YA Literature -- be it writer, editorial assistant, or teacher, (or professional blogger anyone?). Yes, you will work for it; this course is not for the faint of heart, but no other course I have taken has made such a profound difference in widening and deepening my scope of knowledge and synthesis of a topic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Survivor

Opdyke, Irene, and Armstrong, Jennifer. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. 
New York: Random House, Inc., 1999. Print.


One teenage girl has more courage than twenty grown men as she defied the occupying Nazis to hide Jews right under their noses.


When it comes to Nazi Germany, you don't need to write fictional stories. The truth is so much stranger and bizarre and horrifying than fiction, there is no need to write anything but those true accounts -- so brave, inspiring, and rivetingly awful. But what an amazing example of the good in the human spirit soaring above the worst examples of what humans can do, in this sad period of our history: the Holocaust.

Irene Gut Opdyke was just a teenage girl when the Nazis invaded her homeland of Poland. Training to be a nurse, she was caught between the Nazis and the Russians as they fought over ground in her country. Her story is unbelievably tragic and brutal. Her bravery, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice would be impressive for even a war hero, but when considering she was a very young woman, are downright astounding. Her story is honest and never self-congratulatory. Her multiple acts of humanity were to her the only possible ones she could ever have made.

Jennifer Armstrong, an award-winning author of historical fiction, best known for Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, which won three separate book awards, (1999 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor in nonfiction, 1999 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction, 1999 Riverbank Review Children's Books of Distinction - nonfiction) wrote Irene's story (as told to her) in first person narrative as Irene, providing such an immediate and raw connection to Irene and her experiences through the Holocaust as to put the reader right smack in the middle of it themselves. Being a writer, Armstrong handles Irene's story with such amazing respect and reverence, infusing each emotive scene with beautiful and haunting prose that allows this true account to read as lovely as any fiction, but always the reader is acutely aware that this is no fiction

I am of the opinion that the Holocaust is a story that lends itself particularly well to nonfiction, because it is precisely the personal, true aspect of it's horrors punctuated with contrasting acts of humanity and hope that makes any fictional tale of it seem frivolous at best, sacrilege at worst. There are enough personal, true accounts to be cautionary tales there is no need to make any up.

In My Hands won 1999 Children's Bookseller's Cuffies Award for best autobiography, 2000 Association of Booksellers for Children's Choices Award in nonfiction, and the 2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 2000 Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction - nonfiction. It is obvious that this is truly a highly regarded work, especially relevant to children and teens precisely because it is  a true account of a teen who experiences extraordinary events of history first hand, and not only doesn't allow herself to be a victim of this horrible time in human history, but becomes who she is going to be defined as a person precisely because she isn't passive, but is active, is instrumental, in saving lives and making a difference during a war when it seemed not many people dared to do so. Her story is one relatable and inspiring to all readers, but especially to teens who need stories and real-life heroes such as Irene Gut Opdyke.

I read this book because Jennifer Anderson nominated it (for a Mock-Printz) and wrote such a compelling case for it in our MSU discussion board. I want Jennifer to know that if I had finished it before nominations, I very well might have nominated it. I am positive I would have put it up for a honor. She was spot-on in her blog post when she summed it up with one word: magnificent.

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir, Coming-of-Age, Multicultural