Final Write Up

This has been an enlightening and challenging five weeks.

I started it all by writing my proposal, which outlined the purpose of the research, my intentions for it once everything had been compiled, and the methods I’d use in doing so. I created an entirely new blog to record the journey, appropriately titled “Exploring the Young Adult Genre”. However, I posted weekly summaries on the site I’d already created for the class. And the general goal for these five weeks were summarized in the executive description and narrative:

I am going to read and review the most popular books in the young adult genre, which will involve delving into their backgrounds and researching what has made them so successful… I would like to know what factors have caused such an explosion of enthusiasm in both teenagers and adults alike. While there are many articles that express views on this and I certainly have some general theories and ideas of my own, I have not found such an in-depth effort.

Then, after posting the proposal and preparing the blogs, I began reading.

There were five books total. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I chose these books because they’re the most well-known within the genre, selling so many copies that each went on to Hollywood and the big screen. These were the stories that young adults found the most intriguing, and I set out to know why. Again, that was the focus of my project in a nutshell. It seemed simple enough, but I quickly realized that there wasn’t just a single answer.

As stated in my original proposal, I wrote a review for each. The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, and Speak. Then I went on to post an article highlighting my finds of the novel’s backgrounds. Found here, here, here, here, and here. Fan art that represented what I found most, significant interviews with the author, revealing comments that readers made, etc. This was an extensive process because of the sheer amount of material to sift through, something I didn’t foresee. It took at least two days to finish my posts each time.

But during my browsing one day, I came across this quote. It struck me because it seemed to address the very question I was searching for an answer to.

It’s crucial that young readers are considering scenarios about humanity’s future, because the challenges are about to land in their laps. I hope they question how elements of the books might be relevant to their own lives.

―Suzanne Collins.

One of the most significant and unexpected discoveries that came up during the course of this project was the self-evaluation. I started out thinking that this was going to be a project where I solely focused on everything else. The readers, the authors, the work. But within the first week I realized that my own experiences were going to be extremely relevant. Yes, this may seem obvious. Until this point, however, academic projects had mostly been about observing everything else. It came as a surprise to me that everything I was feeling and thinking could and should be put toward my findings.

For instance, I know that for Twilight, part of the reason I found it so thrilling was not only because I enjoyed the romance, but because I experienced some of that emotion myself. As cheesy as it might sound, I felt Edward’s adoration and I had the sense of falling in love through the main character’s eyes.

While the experiences were slightly different for each book, I still lost myself in them in this way. Which, for a teenager, is a huge thing. Everyone needs an escape, especially a person in a time or change, emotional turmoil, and uncertainty.

Another surprise was how important the weekly summaries became to the process. Going into this, I expected my findings and conclusions to be part of the exploration posts. However, I needed time after publishing them to absorb and think. So my personal findings went into the post at the end of the week, and I believe they were stronger for it.

For the summary of The Fault in Our Stars, I realized that “ultimately, there seem to be two things that made this story such a success: the love story and the sincerity of the characters’ struggles with this disease. There is no pretty wrapping when it comes to their pain. Hazel and Augustus are also real in their quirks, conversations, and revelations. People respond to love and being genuine.”

For the summary of The Hunger Games, I recognized that “as humans, we are looking for someone to admire and model ourselves after. We want to be strong and indestructible, despite our flaws. To get back up again if we fall.” I also wondered if “readers could easily see this becoming reality? Or perhaps they appreciate this unapologetic, grim depiction of war? It also caused readers to wonder whether or not they could kill a friend to stay alive, and what your life would be worth after that.”

In reaching conclusions for Twilight, I wrote that “there really is no debate. It’s the same reason Fifty Shades of Grey – which started off as Twilight fan fiction – did so well. The man. The forbidden. The romance.”

When it came time to write a summary for Divergent, I had hit my stride. This was a very important post for me. I made several realizations that it’s impossible to limit myself to one quote:

Ultimately I observed that “the aspect of this story that appeared most often in my search was courage. This is a story about a girl’s pursuit of it, and there were so many images and quotes on how to get past fear, find strength, etc. Sprinkled amongst these were enthusiastic depictions of the romance in the story, yes, but it was very obvious that it was not the main focus for fans.

This book was released during a time when readers had already experienced the romance of Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars. It had also had a taste of the violence and thrill of The Hunger Games. Maybe audiences weren’t looking for that anymore. They consumed Divergent and all they seem able to talk about was the trials that Beatrice went through and how incredible it was that she overcame them, despite the odds.

The author herself confirmed that the story is about choice, identity, and trying to be the best person you can be.

Again the question presents itself: What was the fascination for this book? The romance? The character? The setting? The writing? Probably a combination of everything, yes, but from my research I sincerely believe it was the struggle against fear. Young adults can drastically relate to this, as our formative years are a time of transition, anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion.

Then there was Speak. I immediately knew that “the reason this book sold so well, reached such a large audience, affected so many young adults and adults alike is clear. Not only do they appreciate the bravery of the author in writing about such a difficult topic, but they are affected by it. Many probably relate to it. It’s a sad fact that many, many girls have experience with this. There’s no boy to swoon over and no action to get caught up in. There’s just this pain that the audience finds authenticity in.”

So, yes, for each book I discovered something different in my efforts to answer a single question. At first I was unsettled by it, because I’ve become used to a big conclusion during the college experience. Writing essays, conducting experiments, etc. But eventually I accepted the fact that there isn’t just one conclusion. These are different books, different people reading them, at different times and sub-genres. There are a variety of reasons one responds to a book, especially teenagers.

There were other challenges during this project, of course. It’s easier said than done, reading one book a week. Not to mention that I wanted to watch each movie, in the interest of being thorough. If I did it all over again, I’d want more time. To go into more depth, if possible. Not only look at the social media, but contact the authors themselves and ask them the big questions that are relevant to this project.

But I asked myself those big questions, and I’m satisfied with the variety of answers I found. This was a rewarding and challenging project. I’m proud and satisfied with how it turned out.

Advertisements

Weekly Summary: Speak

I’m glad I saved this book for last. Not only was it the most difficult to read, but it also had the clearest intentions. That is, the author’s reasons for writing it and the audiences’ reason for reading it were fairly easy to deduce. This week was the same as the others in regards to writing a review and then taking a few days to explore the novel’s background.

Again, my pattern was the same. Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But this time my findings were different. Don’t get me wrong, they’re never quite the same. With some titles there was a clear focus on the romance, and with others an obvious enthusiasm for a theme within the story. But for Speak, not only was there a notable absence of fan art, there was also a lack of reader perspective or commentary on social media sites.

Laurie Halse Anderon’s vision for her story was pushed forward in a way I had never seen before. There were so many YouTube videos and interviews to sift through. This is most certainly because of the sensitive issue it touched upon. Speak is not a paranormal romance or a thrilling dystopian; it’s a contemporary story about a girl who’s been raped. So while there was passion for how this was portrayed, readers for this book chose to focus upon the words themselves.

In my exploration posted I noted that “during all of my browsing and research, I saw comments and memes surrounding one similar theme: women finding their strength and their voice. There were also themes of taking what difficult things life throws at us and growing from them.”

So the reason this book sold so well, reached such a large audience, affected so many young adults and adults alike is clear. Not only do they appreciate the bravery of the author in writing about such a difficult topic, but they are affected by it. Many probably relate to it. It’s a sad fact that many, many girls have experience with this. There’s no boy to swoon over and no action to get caught up in. There’s just this pain that the audience finds authenticity in.

And that’s what made Speak so powerful.

Weekly Summary: Divergent

This week I read another first in a series, Divergent by Veronica Roth. It is categorized as a dystopian young adult, which means that it takes place in a futuristic setting. This fact stood out to me, as the publishers thought it was more relevant than the romance. I wrote a brief review summarizing the plot and themes. Then I took a few days and did my exploration of the novel’s fan sites, the author’s inspiration, watched the movies, etc.

Ultimately I observed that “the aspect of this story that appeared most often in my search was courage. This is a story about a girl’s pursuit of it, and there were so many images and quotes on how to get past fear, find strength, etc. Sprinkled amongst these were enthusiastic depictions of the romance in the story, yes, but it was very obvious that it was not the main focus for fans.”

The proof of this was evident on so many sites, but the one I found myself returning to most often this time around was Goodreads. There were thousands of reviews to sift through, and though I didn’t come close to reading all of them, the majority had the same enthusiasm and comments. They admired the main character and her determination. Yes, there was excitement about the romance and the setting, but the discussions and compliments featured that word.

Courage.

This book was released during a time when readers had already experienced the romance of Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars. It had also had a taste of the violence and thrill of The Hunger Games. Maybe audiences weren’t looking for that anymore. They consumed Divergent and all they seem able to talk about was the trials that Beatrice went through and how incredible it was that she overcame them, despite the odds.

“It’s a story about finding who you are, challenging yourself to commit and facing your worst fears. Identity, survival and resistance,” a reader named Sab wrote.

Reader Medeia Sharif admired how the main character “has to dedicate herself to becoming brave and fearless.”

The author herself confirmed that the story is “about choice, identity, and trying to be the best person you can be.”

I concluded my research with noting how “again the question presents itself: What was the fascination for this book? The romance? The character? The setting? The writing? Probably a combination of everything, yes, but from my research I sincerely believe it was the struggle against fear. Young adults can drastically relate to this, as our formative years are a time of transition, anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion.”

Weekly Summary: Twilight

For the third week into our Weblogs and Wikis project, I read the extremely popular novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyers. Compared to the other two novels, the writing style is somewhere between simple and flowery. My impression was a happy medium. I’m not sure if this should be factored into why it sold so many copies, as I believe there was a more prominent, obvious reason. Still, it was something I considered during my exploration of the novel.

I wrote the review first. Straightaway I noted that “this is a love story, no doubt about it. Though it may seem that everything starts with Bella leaving her mother and moving in with her father, the plot truly picks up when she meets Edward.” The main source of conflict in the novel is whether or not these two will remain together and how their relationship will survive.

Next came the research. Once again this involved browsing through social media sites such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Goodreads. While there was an endless amount of material to sift through, the theme of what I found was so consistent that this week there was no debate or question why the book is so well-known among young adults. There were “pictures of Edward and Bella at the prom, their first kiss, their wedding. Popular quotes during the time they were falling for each other.”

Essentially, there were two factors that caused such an surge of enthusiasm for the story. The romance and Edward Cullen. This may seem presumptuous to assume, but the fan sites really spoke for themselves. Especially considering that “this book was released during a time when social media was beginning to explode in a way it never has before. Word of mouth became more powerful than ever. Everyone was talking about Twilight, and passion for it spread like wildfire.” This was supported by the amount of sources I discovered.

“I loved falling in love with Edward,” reader Colleen Houck said.

“I wanted Edward to be real so that I could marry him and he could turn me into a vampire,” another wrote.

The movies made this even more frenzied. Robert Pattinson was cast as the male lead, and I saw so many posters and images and fan-art of him that his face is now committed to memory. “Young girls make up most of Twilight’s demographic,” I stated in my post. “Edward Cullen was the ultimate bad boy. Forbidden, mysterious, beautiful, and dangerous. The vampire angle only adds to this.”

Next I combed through countless interviews with the author. Blogs, Entertainment Weekly, YouTube, etc. One quote that I found particularly interesting was on CNN, and it referenced to her inspiration for the book.

It was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation. The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I’d be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her. It really captured my imagination.

In the end I concluded with the fact that “in other posts, I’ve wondered why the book was so popular. Was it the struggle, the setting, the characters? In Twilight, there really is no debate. It’s the same reason Fifty Shades of Grey – which started off as Twilight fan fiction – did so well. The man. The forbidden. The romance. It’s certainly one of the biggest factors in answering the question for this project.”

Weekly Summary: The Hunger Games

This week I read the first book in a trilogy entitled The Hunger Games. Written by Suzanne Collins, it is known as a dystopian novel in the young adult genre.

Same as before, I first wrote a review. My summary of the plot was brief, simply because I wanted to focus more on the writing and the characters this time around. When compared to The Fault in Our Stars, the storytelling styles are different, of course. One is very contemplative and flowery while the other is lovely but direct. Much like the main character herself, Katniss Everdeen.

Next I explored the reactions to the book online, writing a post documenting this effort, same as before. I would like to think my conclusions were a bit more succinct this time, however. Maybe because I searched more for “what the audience had to say as opposed to the scenes and romance they chose to depict in their art or posts.”

Goodreads and YouTube were especially useful when searching for these particular topics. Readers are certainly not afraid to voice their opinions on these sites, and while there were many different ones, I noticed a consistent theme throughout all my explorations. And that was an enthusiasm for Katniss Everdeen. A reviewer summarizes what exactly is admirable about her, calling her “a fascinating, quick-witted, and innovative person thrown into a horrible situation.”

With this same focus, I looked at all the sites for the movie, as well. Once again and not unexpectedly, Katniss was the main source of enthusiasm.

Not only is this character strong, resourceful, and courageous, but she also makes sacrifices for family. The only reason she ended up as a contestant in the deadly games is because she volunteered to take her little sister’s place. This must be something that everyone can relate to, as we all care about our families. I also couldn’t miss the fact that nearly all the sites I visited had quotes with “a huge image of Katniss Everdeen attached to it. Not the other characters, settings, or moments. Just this fierce girl who the story centers around.” This was just a confirmation of the theory I was beginning to form.

However, there were also multiple comments on the world that Suzanne Collins has created. As stated in my own review, this “world is a much darker place than it is now, split into districts that each have a purpose to serve the Capitol. Coal, lumber, fish, etc. Every year the Hunger Games takes place, which is a fight to the death involving two members from each district.” This made me wonder if readers could easily see this becoming reality? Or perhaps they appreciate this unapologetic, grim depiction of war? It also caused readers to wonder whether or not they could kill a friend to stay alive, and what your life would be worth after that.

Next I delved into the author’s inspiration for the book. Interestingly, it came from watching both a reality television show and real war coverage at the same time. She also has personal experience in waiting for someone to come home from these difficult circumstances. This definitely made me think:

Nearly everyone knows what it is like to have someone they care about fighting a war… whether it’s overseas, internal, or personal. We all are thinking about survival. Especially young people, who might feel as though the smallest incidents are the end of everything. The Hunger Games is not an escape; it’s another battle to invest in, to root for, to win.

Yet even knowing this, I still felt my original conclusion was correct:

Suzanne Collins created a character that everyone can relate to and get behind. It’s different than the couple from The Fault in Our Stars. Yes, there is romance, but it’s a side plot rather than the main focus. Katniss Everdeen is about survival. She’s smart, strong, and determined. A majority of the audience reading this are teenagers. It’s a time of uncertainty and doubt, and here is someone that they can admire and try to be.

As humans, we are looking for someone to admire and model ourselves after. We want to be strong and indestructible, despite our flaws. To get back up again if we fall. Maybe it sounds overdramatic, but this is a very passionate audience and a powerful genre.

Which is why young adults aren’t the only ones reading it.

Weekly Summary: The Fault in Our Stars

This week marked the beginning of our big project in Weblogs in Wikis. After submitting a proposal and getting it approved by our professor, I delved into it without really knowing what I was getting myself into. The intent was to read five young adult novels and compare them in order to evaluate what has made the genre so popular. While our professor was concerned that this might be too vague, I have high hopes that the deeper into this I get, the more specific it will become.

For the first week I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. When I submitted my proposal for this project, I don’t think I was aware of just how much work I was undertaking. Think about it. I vowed to read one book a week. For someone in college, and not to mention working, this is surprisingly difficult.

But I pulled it off by the skin of my teeth. Luckily, The Fault in Our Stars is an excellent novel. I’ve read it once before, but I wanted it to be fresh in my mind for the project. With the goal I outlined in mind – to discover “what factors have caused such an explosion of enthusiasm in both teenagers and adults alike” – I combed through the pages and experienced the story of Hazel and Augustus all over again.

I wrote a review. Again, this was more difficult than I imagined it to be. I wanted to explore the themes and events within the book and not give away the plot for those who haven’t read it. After all, that is the purpose of a review. I asked myself questions like, “Is it because we have all lost someone? Or maybe because there is a desire embedded in each of us to find a love as consuming?”

When I turned the final page, I sat there and thought about what I’d read for a long, long time. Then, once the review was finished, I came to the conclusion that “there are more themes than just romance; it has also been labeled contemporary and family fiction. John Green pulls no punches in sparing his audience from feeling their pain. Which is why I believe – while the love between Hazel and Augustus is certainly an alluring factor – young adults appreciate this title so much. It’s real.”

Next I researched the book’s background, as according to my proposal:

I intend to read numerous interviews with the author and find their inspiration or drive to write such a story. I also plan to browse fan sites or outside reviews to discover what audiences most identify with when it comes to these books. This may include combing through YouTube videos, Tumblr posts, Pinterest boards, and Twitter feeds. A large majority of the audience for young adult books are familiar with and often use these sites.

I fell down the rabbit hole and wrote a post documenting this online journey. There were so many sources that my head spun. The fan base for The Fault in Our Stars are relentless in their enthusiasm and participation in the story. It simply wasn’t possible to view it all. But I did notice that “a majority of them centered around the two main characters, making me realize that the romance was a major draw for readers.”

I did research on the author himself and what inspired him to write such a unique novel. This included watching several interviews on YouTube. John Green is an author with a very strong online presence, and I certainly wasn’t short on material to draw from. Not only did he share what sparked the idea, but he also mentions other directions the book took before landing on shelves.

And I couldn’t forget the movie. Just the trailer had millions of views, and most of the fan art depict the actors that played these characters. To be thorough, I did rent it on iTunes and watch it. It followed the book extremely well, and it only seemed to fan the flames of excitement for John Green’s followers. Even I found myself affected by the chemistry between Hazel and Augustus. That was the moment it hit me: Not only could I evaluate the responses and reactions of other readers, but I could take a look at my own, as well. This may seem obvious, but I approached the project with the notion that I needed to remain impartial.

My post wrapped up with the realization that “ultimately, there seem to be two things that made this story such a success: the love story and the sincerity of the characters’ struggles with this disease. There is no pretty wrapping when it comes to their pain. Hazel and Augustus are also real in their quirks, conversations, and revelations. People respond to love and being genuine.”

I’m interested to see what revelations reading the other books will bring.

Reflection on Sentences About

This week one of the biggest steps I took in my research of Wikis was creating my own name page. After attending class on Tuesday and becoming familiar with the assignment, I created a new page within this – something else I’ve only recently learned how to do – and organized it into two headings. These were “Pages I Created” and “Pages I Contributed to”.

Which led me into Sentences About. The general goal was to write on a wiki, so this is what I focused on. My additions and contributions were rudimentary, at best, but that was the point of this week. To get an idea, to begin, to dip our toes into the waters. We were instructed to select three links, do research, and write about it.

So I chose “The Audience“, “Collective Writing“, and “Audience as Family“. I actually created the first one, since no one else had yet. After briefly exploring what the term itself means, I researched the various strategies to reach that audience and found examples of successful blogs utilizing these. I certainly learned more about the meaning of “audience”, but I’m not sure that was the point of the exercise. More importantly, I learned how to format a wiki page and the freedom involved in creating one.

The other two I was simply a contributor. For “Collective Writing” I did research on the topic and added to the disadvantages involved with this. I also found examples of sites or platforms supporting the idea. Since “Audience as Family” was largely set up as a discussion rather than a set of notes, I added my own thoughts and insights into what it means to view a wiki audience as family rather than a target. I also added a link back to the “Collaborative Writing” page since the two topics were so closely related.

While I don’t think my notes were thorough, I do feel I was successful in achieving this week’s goal. I’m much more familiar with what it is to work on a wiki and collaborate on one.