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Sunday, June 05, 2005

From Danny to Raisin -> Books -> Young Adult Books

FeedRecently published young adult books (generally, books for teenagers) not only include computer technologies as part of the setting, but they also include faux computer-mediated messages and texts as part of the story. Many young adult books blend technology tools throughout the narrative. M.T. Anderson's Feed (Candlewick, 2004), for instance, shows readers a sci-fi vision where computers feed directly into the characters' heads, feeding these characters just-in-time facts and information. The story includes traditional narrative, which is interrupted with various informational and persuasive messages from the Feed and personal messages from the protagonist's friends.

Another example, The Dating Game (Little, Brown, 2004) by Natalie Standiford, tells of three sophomores who design the Dating Game Web site for their Interpersonal Human Dynamics class—complete with quizzes, dating tips, and details on various social problems (think Cosmo Girl online). The story includes traditional narrative, e-mail messages, online quizzes, and Web pages.

Raisin RodriguezWhat's particularly interesting about the evolving connections between technology and young adult novels, however, is their adoption of epistolary forms based on new technologies. The most recent of these books, The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez (Razor Bill, 2005) tells its story entirely through blog entries. The book opens with an explanation of the purpose of Raisin's blog:

        Welcome to Aka my blog. I know there are many blogs out there to choose from. Your choice to read mine is much appreciated.
      Why keep a blog? you ask.
      Excellent question, I answer. (1)

Raisin goes on to provide expository details—she's moved to Philadelphia, far away from her best friends; and her new stepsister keeps the phone tied up so she can't call her friends. Technology in The Secret Blog of Raisin Rodriguez isn't discussed explicitly. We never learn whether Raisin is using blogging software, but it seems likely since her friends are able to post comments. The secrecy of her blog is always foregrounded however. Her first entry ends with a warning to her two best friends, her readers:
      I hope you enjoy my blog. Feel free to check for new updates as often as you like. Please do not feel free, under any circumstances, on pain of death, to give the address of this blog to anyone. This blog is very personal and confidential and deals with mature subject matter.
      Additionally, unauthorized reading could potentially result in harmful side effects such as eye twitching, sudden memory loss, dry mouth, and butt acne.
      Thank you for flying Raisin. (2)
The book reads like a girl talking to her friends. The protagonist records in more detail than most teens are likely to in real blogs, but the story is believable and the technology is generally absent from the plot. It's not the technology that ultimately causes her problems but her own forgetfulness.

Click Here Click Here: To Find Out How I Survived Seventh Grade (Little, Brown, 2005) explores a similar plot—a secret Web site is meant to be a private diary, but things go awry. While Raisin artfully weaves its tale without drawing attention to the underlying technology, the computer tools that seventh grader Erin Swift uses for her private blog are frequently (and sometimes unnecessarily) incorporated in the plot. Because of the influence of her Web designer mother, Erin knows a bit about creating Web pages, and her knowledge leads her to join an Intranet club that will create the school's newsletter.

The Web pages that Erin creates are neatly interspersed with first person narration of the events in her life. Like the plot in Raisin, the technology is not to blame for things that go wrong; personal mistakes are. Unfortunately, the book's use of technology metaphors is frequently laughable. Further, the book often refers to unfamiliar technical terms that are never explained. One chapter, for instance, is titled, "TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident)"; yet teen readers, having used Windows or Mac all their lives, would almost universally be unfamiliar with the terminology. It's a meaningless reference for readers.

TTYLYoung adult novels cover a range of technology tools in addition to blogging, and in each, the technology is simply a fact of the setting. Although many of the books include details on netiquette and social warnings about online safety, the following books all communicate their stories through a technology tool:

  • TTYL (Amulet, 2004) by Lauren Myracle is told through instant messages.
  • p:¬) ChaseR (Candlewick, 2002) by Michael J. Rosen is told through e-mail messages.
  • Heart on My Sleeve (Simon & Schuster, 2004) by Ellen Wittlinger is told through e-mail messages, letters, and instant messages.
  • Snail Mail No More (Scholastic, 2000) by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin is told through e-mail messages.
  • An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries (Annick, 2003) by Nina Schindler is a blend of letters, e-mail messages, post-it notes, and text messages.

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