Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 23, 2008

Joyce, Crutcher and the N-word

Hey,I spent a little time on Chris Crutcher’s web site and saw a lot that was interesting and a few things to comment on.  First, there’s a whole section called CC Answers the Censors , which has Crutcher’s reactions to arguments against teaching some of his books and short stories in schools.  I didn’t read too much here, because I want to read the books first.  I am eager to go back to it after I’ve done the reading.  One of the stories mentioned is “Telephone Man” from the short story collection Athletic Shorts.  Crutcher describes this story as “a story about a young borderline autistic boy who lives in a home with a racist father.”  First, I thought of Joyce and her seminar topic on autism.  Second, as I read further, I found this explanation of the issue some readers had with the story:

I hate the words Telephone Man uses as much as any of you do.  That’s why I put them in the story.  They are the words of raw racism and they are depicted as such.  The “n” word (and I use that euphemism only because it seems we have lost our capability to speak real truth) is probably the single most vile word in our nation’s historical vocabulary, a sadistic weapon of a word that has been used in this nation’s history like a hammer.  You don’t hide a word like that.  You expose it.  You tell the truth about it.  Unlike the people who are challenging the story, I have confidence in our children’s intellectual ability to understand that. 

We’ve talked in class about “the n-word” in connection to Of Mice and Men, Tyrell, and just last week in our lit circle on Elijah of Buxton (perhaps it came up the lit circle on Flake’s and Myers’ short story collections as well).  Do we avoid it?  I think the answer is clearly and loudly, “NO!”, but then how do we talk about it?  And then, what do we do if someone challenges the way we discuss race, racism, racial epithets, etc?  This train of thought connects with Joyce’s comments on the “Book Lust” post.  She wrote:

As a student (and someday teacher) I’m learning that sometimes I say stupid things.  Sometimes I know they’re stupid the moment they come out of my mouth. How do we manage this sort of “slip up” in a classroom filled with children? Is there a teacher filter we’re awarded with the moment of graduation, something that we swallow that enables us to keep those stupid things in? Or, am I a hopeless romantic: envisioning every day, every word, every moment filled with deep, resonating, wonderful discussions that are curtious, encouraging, and positive? Are these fears reasonable?

What if I say something that pushes a student away, rather than lifts them up? How do I recover from that kind of devastation, and-more importantly-how do I make sure I never say something stupid that jeopardizes the fragile sphere of learning I am trying to promote?

I would like to add: What happens when we are careful and considerate with what we say, when we think we are being clear, but what we say is still misinterpreted? 

I hold on to the belief that we are models of more than how to read and write, and because of this belief, I try to see opportunity in the situations Joyce describes.  If you make a mistake, show students how to take responsibility for mistakes by saying, “I’m sorry.  I made a mistake.  I will try not to make the same mistake twice.  Can you please be understanding and forgive me?”  This shows respect, humility and reminds students that we as teachers and adults are not perfect. 

I know it’s a long post, but what do you think?



February 17, 2008

The Women of TYRELL

Filed under: "Tyrell" — sostrom @ 7:57 pm

Thanks for the nudge to continue posting on books we’ve read, Karen.

We spoke in class about Tyrell’s mother, and while there’s obviously a lot to say about her, I’m interested in what everyone thought of Novisha and Jasmine.  I felt betrayed by Novisha at the end of the book, but up to that point I saw her as smart, caring, focused and ambitious.  I guess she still is these things at the end of the book, but also liar.

Jasmine was more complex and interesting to me because I’ve met so many young women like this.  Girls are sexualized at an increasingly young age, and I think that Jasmine bears the brunt of this.  She plays a role when she promotes Tyrell’s party, but we know she’s got so much more depth to her than that.  She shows Tyrell at least some aspects of her true self, but still manipulates him with her sexuality.  I think Jasmine’s conflicting personalities are such an accurate portrayal of so many young women. 

The thing about Novisha is that she’s going to be okay, but Jasmine… I’m not so sure.  What do you think?


February 13, 2008

My response to Tyrell

Filed under: "Tyrell" — kariredmond @ 11:28 pm

Like Mandy, and perhaps many of you, I think that Tyrell was my favorite book for this week’s assigned readings.  I will admit that it was difficult at first to pick up on the language and slang used in the novel, but it is a language that I am accustomed to hearing out loud and not written down.  This story broke my heart because I was able to become so attached to Tyrell and his little brother that I really wanted everything to somehow work out for them in the end.  One important aspect of this novel is the idea of peer pressure, and Tyrell (for the most part) set an exemplery example for his younger brother by not caving in and selling drugs with Calvin.  Although he was not the most law-abiding citizen, he was a victim of his environment and society, and was trying to make the end justify the means.  I think a lot of teenagers, regardless of their race, sex, or socio-economic background could really relate to Tyrell and the messages that Coe Booth is trying to send to readers. 


February 11, 2008


Filed under: "Tyrell" — jwill7 @ 5:11 pm

I bought Tyrell and took Feathers out of the library at about the same time. I just let them compete for my attention. Initially I was leaning toward Feathers.  After five or six chapters Tyrell took over.

I’d like to know what people thought of the dialect used in Tyrell. Did it come off as believable or contrived? Furthermore, could it risk being dated? For my part I was shocked by the language in the first couple of chapters. As I read the language became more authentic. Once I got over the ambition of Booth’s voice I realized that it actually wasn’t trying too hard. She demonstrates command and employs vernacular as a method of characterization. There are many things that I love about Tyrell. The narration is mystifying in the respect that you have this account from Tyrell’s point of view but it’s not as if he’s writing it down, he’s jus sayin’. I found it all very captivating, honest and impartial to the morality of the various characters.

Obviously Booth leaves much unwritten in the resolution. Do you (anyone) think that Booth’s next effort should be a continuation of Tyrell? Sarah, don’t you dare suggest Tyrell 2.

See you all on the 14th, oh wait that’s…


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