Saturday, December 28, 2013

Trending YA Entertainment: 2013 - 2014

As a father of three who also works with youth, I have seen the power of entertainment to shape one's perspective of the world. Almost two years ago, I began posting reviews of the stories that most directly impact a primarily young adult audience. My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at the worldview in the stories. Why do these stories resonate? What messages are teens absorbing?

Because my time is limited, I focus on popular trending books, films and TV shows. I freely admit to avoiding teen romances - but they aren't being turned into movies, are they? Dystopias, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and superheroes seem to be where all the action is right now. I, for one, will not complain.

I am confident that my perspective is imperfect; nonetheless, I hope this blog can create a resource that encourages critical thinking, serious reflection, conversation, and clarity as we navigate the competing worldviews around us. Feel free to weigh in with any of your thoughts!


Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games:  J.W. Wartick gives a good overview of the film version of Catching Fire; click here for a perspective on the entire series and here for an article that will provide multiple links for insights based on The Hunger Games and Philosophy. 

Veronica Roth's Divergent:  The book was excellent; I hope the movie lives up to the hype.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game:  Once again, J.W. Wartick gives a great summary of the film; my review looks at the story from a different angle.

Max Brook's World War ZThe book is brilliant.  Seriously. The movie vaguely resembled it.

Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies:  A surprisingly deep story of love and human nature.  The book was written for adults; the movie aims for a YA crowd. The content matches the target audience in each.

Beautiful Creatures: A riveting story that left a lot of unanswered questions and a little uneasiness.

The Mortal Instruments: The book was a glittering mess. Engaging, flashy, and epic, its moral center did not hold.

Joe Hill's Horns: Stephen King's extremely talented son has written the most disturbing young adult book I have readIt's dark, vulgar, and ultimately hopeless, though there is a sort of crude justice that shows up throughout the book. And Frodo got the nod for the movie?

Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice: The upcoming movie version (Seventh Son) looks great; the book on which it is based is okay.

Joseph Finder's Paranoia: The movie bombed in spite of being headlined by some some heavy hitters. As interesting as the book was, it didn't feel like a YA book, and the ending left a lot to be desired.


Neil Shusterman's Unwind: I highly recommend this brilliant analysis of the culture of abortion.

Jonathan Mayberry's Rot and Ruin series: After reading and reviewing the first two, I bought the next two for my boys for Christmas. It's a great series that takes the zombie genre and turns it into a compelling story of character, heroism, and nobility.

Paolo Bacigalupi's The Drowned Cities:  Excellent book. It's violent and grim, but it give a thought-provoking and honest look at war, idealism, science, politics, and human nature.

Allie Condie's Matched series:  A solid-but-not-spectacular dystopic story overshadowed by The Hunger Games and the Divergent series.

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean At The End Of The Lane:  A riveting blend of mythology, religion, good, and evil that topped the Goodreads Fantasy category in 2013.

James Dashner's The Maze Runner trilogy: Though the first book is clever, I didn't care for the series overall.  Based on its incredible popularity, I am clearly in the minority.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life in the Lyrics: “Follow Your Arrow”

"If you save yourself for marriage you're a bore,
if you don't save yourself for marriage you're a whore-able person. 
If you won't have a drink then you're a prude, 
but they'll call you a drunk as soon as you down the first one. 
If you can't lose the weight then you're just fat, 

but if you lose too much then you're on crack. 
You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, 
so you might as well just do whatever you want, so…

Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys 
or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're into. 
When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight 
roll up the joint, or don't. 
Just follow your arrow wherever it points, 
yeah, follow your arrow wherever it points.

If you don't go to church you'll go to hell, 
if you're the first one on the front row you're a self-righteous son of a - 
 Can't win for losing; you just disappoint 'em; 
just 'cause you can't beat 'em don't mean you should join 'em.

Say what you feel, love who you love, 
'cause you just get so many trips 'round the sun, 
yeah, you only live once."
- Kasey Musgraves

The talented Kasey Musgraves first caught my ear with “Blowin’ Smoke,” a clever and poignant song about people who rarely follow through on any of the noble plans they have for their lives. The overriding metaphor has to do with smoking – people say they are going to quit someday, but they’re just blowin’ smoke.  It’s a great tune.

According to her popular single “Follow Your Arrow,” this desire to embrace a purposeful life of health is something you should definitely do. Or not. It doesn't really matter. “Follow Your Arrow” highlights sexual lifestyles, the use of addictive substances, religious beliefs, and choices about whom we should love as areas in which we ought to do whatever we want, because, you know, YOLO.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Stephen King's 11/22/63: Defying the Dark

“I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”

There’s something about Stephen King’s writing that gets to me. Yes, he has a very grim view of the world.  The darkness in his universe is pervasive, but that's how King gets us to long for the light.

Perhaps I feel this way because I am intrigued by the religious imagery that permeates many of his books. In an interview with NPR, King said the following about his belief in God:

"I choose to believe it.... If you say, 'Well, OK, I don't believe in God. There's no evidence of God,' then you're missing the stars in the sky and you're missing the sunrises and sunsets and you're missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there's a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, 'Well, if this is God's plan, it's very peculiar,' and you have to wonder about that guy's personality — the big guy's personality.”

His mesmerizing 11/22/63 demonstrates this peculiar tension between the beauty of creation and the beasts with human nature. Men love their children while they beat their wives. People with the best of intentions inadvertently pave roads to hell. A winsome, religious small town hides perversions and excesses simmering beneath the surface.  These things stubbornly persists because something powerful and purposeful is shaping the course of human history. The past protects even moments of great tragedy as the world unfolds in ways that may be far better than we realize. That does not mean, of course, that we have to like it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Hunger Games and Just War Theory

In a previous series of posts, I used The Walking Dead and Philosophy to look at the worldview issues in AMC’s hit series. Since Catching Fire is currently taking the world by storm,  this seems like a good time to use The Hunger Games and Philosophy as a springboard to dive into some key themes in the trilogy.*

 In “Starting Fires Can Get You Burned: The Just War Tradition and the Rebellion Against the Capitol," Louis Melancon looks at the Rebellion through the lens of Just War Theory. As with my previous posts, I hope to accurately portray the writer's position while adding some comments of my own.

Mr. Melancon begins by noting three positions** people generally take when it comes to war:

  •            Pacifism: violence against others is always unacceptable. This does not seem to be the position of any of the main characters in the Hunger Games trilogy. Clearly, there are no Amish and Mennonite craftsmen making cabinets and fake fireplaces in Panem. 
  •        Political Realism: Thucydides said of the Athenian conquest of Milos, “The strong do what they have the power to do, the weak accept what they have to accept.” Violence is acceptable if it helps fulfill stated goals (Presidents Snow and Coin, and perhaps rebels such as Gale).  
  •        Just War Tradition: Violence may be acceptable if used in a just cause and exercised by just means. This theory, which has Cicero, Augustine and Aquinas in its historical camp, offers a middle ground between do nothing and doing anything. This position is grounded solidly in the Christian tradition, but is not limited to those of religious persuasion.

Just War Theory can be broken down into three categories: jus ad bellum (the right to go to war), jus in bello (right conduct within war), and jus post bellum (justice after war).

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Life Is Always A Test": What The Stumbling Living Can Learn From The Walking Dead

"You think it's still a test?"
"Life is always a test, Rick."
Herschel and Rick, Season 4, Episode 5

"You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. And nowadays you breathe and you risk your life. Every moment now, you don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.” 
 Herschel, Season 4, Episode 3

AMC's The Walking Dead may well be one of the best shows on TV right now. I could do without the excessive gore (though one could argue it's needed to establish the context), but the questions the show raises about life, morality, faith, humanity, and hope are profound.

After watching the first two seasons, I picked up The Walking Dead and Philosophy, one of many books in a series that uses popular entertainment as a way of addressing deeper philosophical questions. Some articles were better than others; all of them raised thought-provoking questions. I offer the following links for those who are interested in using the undead as a means to think more deeply about the life.