Friday, December 2, 2016

Adult fiction that appeals to teens

I've been doing a lot of thinking about teen fiction lately; mostly it's been a reflection about the rise of teen fiction as a publishing phenomenon, which happened well after I was a teenager. When I was in high school, we went straight from children's books to adult books (mostly the classics). There were no (or few) books that were written about us or for us, no protagonists who were our age and actually sounded like we sounded or looked like us. We were not particularly entertained by many of these, but they were what we had, so we read them. If we were lucky, we knew a librarian (or another reader) who could steer us towards adult books that might appeal to us.

For teens today, all that has changed. Now there are books of every genre--mystery, horror, realistic fiction, you name it--with teen protagonists on whose lives, loves, or problems the books specifically focus. But even with the wealth of novels for teens, there are still areas of adult literature that can and should be recommended to teens ready to move beyond "their" section in the library, and one of those areas is and has always been science fiction.

Although there are obviously some books in every genre that may not be considered appropriate for teen consumption, science fiction is, in my opinion, the best genre for teens to explore, for a variety of reasons: The focus of science fiction is the future; and when are you more focused on the future yourself than when you are a comparatively new person? Science fiction is speculative fiction, and the question "what if?" is as compelling for teens as it is for adults. And the element of world-building and exploration, in which the characters travel to or through or inhabit somewhere completely different from anything with which we are familiar is equally fascinating to teens.

I discovered science fiction at age 20, when my new husband (now ex) insisted we go to the opening of a movie called Star Wars. I had no interest in waiting in line for four hours to see some "space jockeys" fly around doing whatever, but we were in Westwood and he had the car keys, so I got in line. That movie changed my reading life; I went to the library the following weekend and checked out books by Asimov, Heinlein, and Herbert, and embarked on a fascination with science fiction that has never left me.

Although those names and some of their works could be considered old-fashioned, outdated, and possibly too didactic for modern readers, there are still a certain percentage that hold up, even though they were written in the 1950s about the "far future" of the 2000s. And though some titles are unsuitable for teens, many are just what a teenager in search of a good read is looking for--adventure, excitement, and new experiences. Consider, for instance, two novels not written specifically with teens in mind, but nonetheless beloved: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. There are many more in science fiction where those came from!

For instance: Three by Robert Heinlein that are still compelling (and suitable for middle school readers) are Citizen of the Galaxy, Time for the Stars, and Have Spacesuit--Will Travel. Slightly more mature teens might enjoy The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Revolt in 2100.

Isaac Asimov's trilogy Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation still thrills us with the idea of a galaxy-spanning empire and the small group of scientists who predict its downfall.

Frank Herbert's first three books set on the spice planet of Arrakis--Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune--have a young protagonist who is put into a situation completely out of his depth and taught first to cope and then to rule. (Do NOT watch any of the movies made from this series--colossal failures, all of them, and they'll spoil the books for you for sure!) A contemporary writer whose book, Lock In, we're reading next month in 10-12 Book Club, is John Scalzi.

And as I discovered when I read further, science fiction is not the exclusive purview of men--in fact, some of the finest writers of science fiction are both older and contemporary women authors.

Sheri S. Tepper tells an intriguing tale in tune with our current concerns over the fate of our planet in The Family Tree, which is both enlightening and full of humor and unexpected surprises. Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed posit what it would be like if societies common to earth or those rebelling against its traditions were to be picked up and set down on another planet to thrive or fail in a new environment.

Anne McCaffrey's delightful stories of telepathic dragons are teen-focused in the trilogy of Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. Jo Walton is a comparatively new science fiction writer, perhaps most noteworthy for her mash-up of Plato and sci fi in The Just City and its sequels; and V. E. Schwab wrote one of my favorite sci fi superhero (or antihero?) books ever, Vicious.

Connie Willis, who has won more Hugo and Nebula Awards for her work than any other writer, has just written a new book ideal for older teens and "new adults." In Crosstalk, which is set in a not-too-distant future, a doctor has come up with a "simple outpatient procedure" (yes, it's brain surgery, but don't worry) to increase empathy between romantic partners. After a six-week whirlwind romance with Trent Worth (one of her co-workers at the mobile phone company that employs them to stay one step ahead of their competitor, Apple), Briddey Flannigan is pleased when her boyfriend suggests they undergo the EED procedure together. She is anticipating that a closer emotional connection and enhanced understanding will be the result.

Complicating these plans are her large, needy, and completely boundary-less family members, most of whom disapprove of her intention to get the EED (and some of whom disapprove of Trent as well), and her co-worker, C.B. Schwartz, who is amazingly technophobic for a guy who works for a competitor of Apple, and is worried that Briddey's EED will cause UICs (unintended consequences). Despite all their advice, 
Briddey takes the step and makes a connection--but it's with someone else, and it's definitely not what she expected. Willis takes on our over-connected world of TMI (too much information) and multiplies its perils exponentially in this crazy comedy of errors.

This book was so much fun. T
he concept, the characters, the internal dialogue, and the situations were all so clever, and before the (somewhat) anticipated ending, the plot follows several unexpected red herrings to give us a good mystery on top of our science fiction. You can find this book on the adult "new book" shelves for 7-day check-out.

Although teens now have a huge inventory of books written specifically for them from which to choose, for those whose interests are turning to adult reading, a selection of adult science fiction can be an eye-opening and entertaining transition.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Library closed on Friday!

All branches of Burbank Public Library will be CLOSED on Friday, December 2
for a Library Staff In-Service Day. We will reopen for regular hours on Saturday, December 3.

With OverDrive you can download a free eBook.

With InstantFlix you can watch a PBS documentary, a short film, or a classic cartoon.

FREE with your library card.

While we're reminding you of things, don't forget our Teens Read to Tots event on Saturday, sharing "Dewey's Dragon Tales" with toddlers and their families. Buena Vista Branch, 10:30-12:30.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Award-winning Teen Fiction Post #4

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Ashwini is 14 and is in 9th grade.

When Dreams Are True
by Ashwini Dhamodharan

Chennai = the capital/ largest city in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. This story takes place in a slum in Chennai.

Tamil = a south Indian language spoken in the state Tamilnadu

Appa = "Dad" in Tamil

Amma = "Mom" in Tamil

It’s funny how many worlds there are in one city. Take Chennai, India for example. There is a world with tall apartments and two-story houses. A world with fancy restaurants serving foreign food like pizza, burgers, and noodles. A world where there are grand malls with products so expensive that a family can live off that money for months.

And then there’s my world--tiny huts all crowded into a slum. A world where a few rupees make a big difference. A world where men, like my father, lie drunk in the local Tasmac, the government liquor shop. A world where uncleanliness is no stranger. Welcome to my world.

Every weekend, we watch a popular Tamil movie on the bulky, box-shaped TV the government gave to every household for free. Often it stars popular actors like Vijay, Surya, or Rajinikanth. I like how different the movies are from reality. It’s fun to have a break from real life.

I’ve wondered what it would be like if my life was like the movies I watch. I would be invincibly strong and smart. I would probably live in a mansion, filthy rich, or in a comfortable apartment. There would be no money problems. My father would have a college degree or a well-paying job. My grandfather would receive proper treatment from a private hospital. My mother and grandmother would wear silk saris. My three-year-old sister would have her own room with teddy bears and toys. I would finally learn to speak proper English…

But my imagination is far from reality. In the real world, I am a weak boy, only 12 years old. We live in a tiny, one-roomed hut with a bathroom outside, near the threshold. We struggle to make enough money to live on. My father, the only person who works in the family, makes a living lifting and carrying sacks. My mother and grandmother wear well-worn saris and only buy new ones once a year. My grandfather is bedridden, unable to afford the expensive treatment he needs. And I am in an ancient public school, studying subjects like science, math and Tamil, but no English.

After school, I rush to finish all my homework and studies so I can hang out with the others boys. We love cricket. We play cricket for hours. We talk about cricket players and the latest films.

When I get home, mother serves me idly, dosa, or rice with sambar. My mother is the best cook in the world. When it is time for bed, my grandmother narrates stories, usually about Hindu mythology. I love to hear them. I would go to bed, dreaming about Rama, a banished prince who saved his kidnapped wife with an army of monkeys, or the Pandavas, five brothers who went to war against their hundred cousins.

Around that time, my father would arrive. Usually, my father makes a stop at the Tasmac before coming home. When my father arrives drunk, we all leave him alone, unwilling to trigger his irrational anger due to intoxication. My grandmother always says to me, “Don’t waste your time and money on bad habits like drinking. Instead, invest that time for your future.”

My way to do that is to dream.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once said, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” And so I dream. I dream that I am a mythological character like Arjuna, the wielder of the Gandiva bow, or Hanuman, the monkey who was able to lift the Dronagirl mountain to bring sanjeevani to Lanka. I dream about being rich. I dream about being a superhero like Spiderman. Most of all, I dream of going to college and becoming successful in my future career.


“Varun, wake up. At this rate, you’re going to be late to school.” My mother shook me awake. It was a typical Monday morning. I was groggy from studying for a test.

I did my regular ‘get ready for school’ routine: use the bathroom, brush my teeth, drink coffee, take a bath, pray to the gods, eat my breakfast, and do last-minute studying.

“Damn that drunkard. Probably sleeping on the streets again,” my mother muttered to herself. Then she turned to me. “Varun, if you see that father of yours, can you give him a piece of my mind and send him here.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for him,” I said, setting off to school. Though it was rare, there were times when my father passed out on the sidewalk, drunk. I would have to fetch him the next morning.

I walked through the streets of Chennai, busy with cars, buses, and motorcycles. I was walking through the streets imagining how life would be if my dad didn’t drink alcohol when I noticed the crowd blocking my path. As I was getting closer to the crowd, I could hear the conversation of those who gathered around.

“Someone call the ambulance! A drunken man who was lying in the street got run over by a car!”

“Too late, he’s already dead.”

For some reason apprehensive thoughts started filling my mind. My heart started to pump faster. What were the chances the dead man was my father? To me it seemed like there was no way my father could be dead. Yes, I convinced myself, it could just be a random drunkard. I decided to take a glimpse at the man just to prove to myself there was nothing to be worried about. Taking a breath, I squeezed myself through the crowd.

It was like my world had come to an end. For a moment I couldn’t think or move. I was frozen in a state of shock. The corpse was covered with blood. The leg had been completely run over. But that face, that beard was undoubtedly my dad.

“Appa!” I screamed, running to his body. “Appa, wake up. Appa ,wake up.”

I kept shaking him, as if I could wake him up. I was blinded by a flood of tears. My hands, my school uniform, they were all covered with blood, but I didn’t care. I could hear the whispering of the crowd but I couldn’t focus on them. The only thing I could think of was my dad.

The passing seconds seemed like eternity. I was crying like a fool unable to think about anything but my dad.

“Varun,” I heard my dad calling in my mind, “Varun, go call your mom.”

My dad’s voice was so soothing, so alive, and I wasn’t sure if the voice was real or just my imagination. But I decided to listen to the voice and found myself sprinting towards my hut. I ignored the weight of my heavy backpack and worn-out sandals. I ignored the piles of trash and the puddles of sewage. None of those mattered now.

“Amma,” I screamed, gasping for air. My mother was cutting vegetables. My sister and my grandparents were asleep.

My mother was alarmed at the sight of my bloody clothes.

“Varun, what happened? What happened?” she kept asking, her eye wide open with alarm.

“Appa is… Appa is…” I couldn’t think of any right words. I grabbed my mother’s hand and pulled her to my father’s body.

My mother was paralyzed when she saw Father’s corpse. I noticed streams of tears flowing from her eyes, glistening in the bright sun. She brushed them away.


It was a sunny day for a funeral. I could hear the old ladies were beating their breast and wailing, “Aaaiioooo. Aaaiioooo.”

It all seemed wrong. The traditional funeral music started playing. People started to dance. The horns and the drum blared. My mother seemed like she didn’t care, like nothing happened. It was so infuriating.

I was weary and done with this life. The night seemed so quiet, like I was all alone. It was hard to believe that a few hours ago, my father’s funeral took place. I went to the bathroom, angry with everyone: myself, my mother, my father, the world.

A huge sob startled me. There was someone crying in the bathroom. I knocked hard on the metal door.

“Coming,” a voice called. It was my mother who came out of the bathroom. She had obviously been crying and had wiped all her tears off.

I’ve thought of my mother as a strong and brave woman. She cooked for all of us, she took care of everyone, she did all the household chores. But at this moment, I was blown away by her strength. Mother was in much more pain than anyone else, yet she always showed a strong face before everyone. She didn’t want us to worry.

My mother's face was so sad and composed that I wanted to run up to her and tell her to cry her heart out. Instead, I walked up to her, and laid down with my head on her lap, as if it were a pillow. I was feeling something I couldn’t describe with words--it was like my mother was going to protect me. I fell asleep feeling safe, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I went to school the next day, despite my mother’s protest. I want a diversion from all these problems and I didn’t want my studies to be affected.

Before I left for schoo., I asked my mother, "Amma, how will we survive?”

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find a job today.”


“Amma, the milk is barely enough for four,” I observed as my grandmother made our daily coffee. My mother’s new job is in a tiny old factory, where the hours are long and the pay is low. My grandmother does most of my mother’s household chores now, but Mother still comes home exhausted.

“That’s all we can afford. You should drink the coffee. I’ll do fine without it,” my mother offered.

I struggled at school that day. I could not focus on my class work. Instead I thought of the family situation. At this rate we were going to starve. I had to to do something.

I toyed with my pencil. Should I take a job? Should I give up my education, my future? or should I ignore everything and focus on my studies?

That afternoon, the funeral musicians came, demanding payment for Father’s funeral. My mother sent them off with a cup of coffee.

I lay on my mother’s lap. She played with my hair.

“Amma, are we so poor?” I asked, staring at the ceiling with the blue paint chipping away.

“Yes,” my mother said in a lifeless tone, “yes, we are poor.”

I had never thought of getting a job at this age. There were some other boys who dropped out of school, but not me. I wanted to focus on my studies. But at this moment, I decided if my family were to survive, I had to get one.

“Amma, I don't want to go to school anymore. I don't like it,” I lied. "I want to take a job.”

“No, I want you to get an education and have the chance in life that the generations before you never got. I want you to be a father your children can be proud of. I don't want you to end up like me,” she calmly explained.

“You can't force me to go to school,” I said, hoping to convince my mother it was useless to argue with me.

“I’ll just drag you if I have to,” she threatened.

I had hit my limits. I was confused, tired, and most of all I was angry with the unfair world. It was my mother I took it out on.

“I hate school! I hate my life and I hate you! I hate you! You want everyone to listen to you and be your slave. But we aren't. I'm going to get a job. I'm twelve years old now. I can make decisions for myself!”

I walked away, not willing to face my mother. Deep down I felt guilty for overreacting, but my reaction was justified.

My mother was my motivator. Her goal had always been my goal. But now, her real goal was to keep us alive.


I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead. Even though a month had passed since I had been employed, it was tiring to lift the heavy sacks across the market. The other boys have been doing this forever. Some of don't even have a family to go back to.

They never got the chance to study and go on to make their own path in life. I, on the other hand, had that chance but I threw it away.

Every day, I see the students in their uniforms walking home. A pang of jealousy hits me. Sometimes I wish I had never taken a job, but then I think about my laughing sister, my hard-working mother, and my tired grandparents, and I start working harder than before.


My uncle once gave me a trunk, a small, worn-out thing that is sometimes used as a chair. Inside the trunk, all my valuables are safely hidden. I have the only key to open it. Deep down in my sea of treasure lies my greatest treasure of all: my school textbooks.

When no one is looking, I take them out of the trunk, sneak outside and study like crazy. I dream of going back to class even more bright than when I left. But I know I won't go back to school.

Today I made a goal of finishing two pages of the chapter. At this rate, I am ahead of my former class. I went home from work thinking about atoms.

My mother was waiting for me at the door. It was obvious I wasn't forgiven for yelling at my mother. My mother hadn't actually spoken to me since I yelled at her. It was driving me insane with guilt.

“Do you truly not want to go to school?” my mother asked when I got inside.

“Yes,” I replied, uncomfortable with the lie. The delicious aroma of my grandmother’s sambar was floating around the house. I became hungrier than before.

“Varun, answer me honestly: Do you really like not going to school?” she asked again. A hint of suspicion arose in my mind but I brushed it away.

“Yes,” I replied again, nervously .

“Then why were you reading this yesterday? I saw you sneaking out to read your school books!” she said, taking out the textbook I had hidden in my trunk.

Maybe I was just overwhelmed by all the secrets my heart had been holding, but I decide no more holding back my feelings. I would just be honest. A stream of tears began sliding down my face. My mother wrapped her warm arms around me.

“You’ve grown so much since your father died. That heart of yours is as strong as a full grown man. You’ve given up your dreams so this family can survive. It's all my fault. I'm a failure of a mother.” My mother’s voice broke into sobs.

For a while, we were just sobbing. My mother’s arms were protecting me from the outside world.

After she calmed down a bit, Mother said “Tomorrow, you are going to re-enroll in school. Nothing is more important to me than my two children’s future and dreams. We may struggle now, but someday you'll have a good job with a nice salary and I don't care how hard I have to work to achieve that.”

That night, after eating some delicious dosa and sambar, I went to bed dreaming about my future. I was going to survive this cruel world. I was going to make my mother proud.