Category Archives: YA Literature

What’s Wrong With This Place (part 1 of 4)

Read this article today–3862406 over at the Aiken Standard.

Not sure how many of you are familiar with the young adult novel, Ender’s Game, but it’s, in a word, fucking brilliant. (Two words. Sue me). About a kid who was genetically engineered to be a genius, taken from his home to live in a space station and learn how to become one of the greater military commanders of all time.

It’s a book about finding a deep inner will and strength of character when the entire world is out to break you. It’s about cleverness and leadership– in fact, I often argue, it’s THE book on leadership. Hands down, your one stop shop.

Many would disagree with me, finding it difficult to read about children treated in such a way, and that it’s not leadership but barbarism. A debate not for my blog, but I find it wonderful, and at least intellectually enriching.

So I read this article, which has a teacher being investigated by the police and the school board in South Carolina for reading parts of this book to his middle school class.

I’m appalled. This is ridiculous, and speaks not only to the way the school system has been forced to tiptoe around every single word they teach our kids, but in the way that we’re raising our kids to begin with.

They called this book pornography, which are concerned adult-types most favorite buzz-word. Pornography is explicit description of sexual organs or activity DESIGNED TO TITILATE. There are no sex scenes in Ender’s Game. Children run around naked, SO WHAT?

(This post is going to spawn a series of blogs this week, blogs that have demanded to be written and might now see the light of day, and I’ll link them here as I go, if you’re reading this later. But this goes back to these bigger issues of American’s terror about nudity, the way we’re coddling our children and not letting them grow any toughness at all, and the problem with our public school system)

I give you John Green, famous children’s novelist, on a similar situation of his book a few years ago:

We’re conflating minuscule and overblown issues here to instead ban books, and not only regular paper and glue books, but BRILLIANT books too, that teach our children how to be strong in this painful place that is our world. And that’s so inappropriate, it’s deeply offensive to me.

More to come on Saturday.


Bringing Rock n’ Roll Back to YA Lit

In my best Dracula voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, Van Helsing!”

Photo Credit Julia Guzman


No? What? It’s actually Jason Henderson (shown here)? Perhaps I messed that one up again, but don’t hold it against me. The two are easily confused. After all, the worlds they live in are essentially the same. Henderson has been described as a writer of the supernatural who wears his darkness within. His first young adult novel, 2010’s Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising has been named by the Texas Library Association to the 2011 Lone Star Reading List, a list of the top 20 books for young readers.

His character Alex, is described as James Bond meets the quintessential vampire hunter, a 14-year-old badass. Henderson is also the writer of the Sword of Dracula comic miniseries and his new Alex Van Helsing novel, Voice of the Undead is out July 26. I spoke with Henderson to discuss his fascination with vampires, paranormal pop culture and how both impact his work in YA fiction.

Q: What is it that so draws you to horror and the supernatural?

A: I don’t necessarily really even know if I believe in the supernatural at all but I’m drawn to the stories about it. I think I like it because of the opportunity for allegory. I get bored when a story is just about one thing, when it’s just about “this woman or this man grapple with whether or not they’re going to get a divorce.” That’s the kind of movie that makes me want to claw my eyes out. But then you say “a man and a woman are struggling over the decision of whether to get divorced and they discover a well that goes to Hell in their living room.” That becomes interesting to me. Are they going to get divorced? And also, demons!

Q: So why vampires more specifically?

A: I like vampires because they are these wonderful go-to fantasy symbols of a million different facets of humanity; how we sustain ourselves off of one another, how we can be gangsters, seducers, rapists, killers. You can have a facet of the vampire that reflects all of those or you can be a hero who fights against those.

Q: Do you find that your writing environment influences the kind of stories you’re writing?

A: When I’m really busy, on a deadline, I’ll go to the University of Dallas – where I actually graduated – and I’ll spend my time tucked away in an empty lecture hall or empty classroom. Sometimes it makes me feel very scholarly, which helps me to concentrate more and work hard but on the other hand, if I get rid of that feeling, it can be completely without personality, and so whatever music you start playing kind of defines the experience of writing. So if I’m writing a scene where Alex has to break onto a cruise ship by climbing a chain and knocking out some people, then I can play some James Bond music and the whole place becomes James Bond in a sense. But then if I’m writing a giant motorcycle action scene and I’m playing a lot of Rob Zombie, the whole place has a very rock and roll feel.

Q: A vampire novelist who listens to Zombie? Obviously you’re doing something right! Speaking of, your name is starting to come up more and more in connection to your work as far as awards and lists go, what is it about your work that’s standing out beyond the action and fangs? What defines it?

A: Well thank you! What makes my work mine is that I like to go several layers deep so that you can read the book and totally just enjoy the action and adventure but the more you know about the subject matter the more you catch little references and dependencies that make the book even deeper and more enjoyable for you the more that you know. If you know more about vampire literature, you will catch all this minor stuff. I really want people to catch a million different Easter Eggs in the book.

Q: Where did Alex Van Helsing come from? 

A: Alex was a character in Sword of Dracula, my comic book. It starred Veronica Van Helsing, a woman who was leading a group of commandos – the Polidorum, the same ones Alex was a part of. And it was her chasing the most powerful vampire on the planet, the Osama Bin Laden of vampires, Dracula himself, who was hiding out in France. This was an awesome comic book miniseries; it was very popular. Then a couple years ago my agent said, hey what if we tried to do a YA novel based on a comic book. I intended it to be about Ronnie Van Helsing only she was going to be 14 years-old. But by the time we were done with the development process, we decided to save the Ronnie story for later and left the rest to be about her brother, Alex. So the two stories are in the same universe.
Q: How are you planning on continuing the series? Seven books? Three? A whole series?

A: Well we know for sure that there will be a third book coming out in 2012, but beyond that is up to Harper Collins. A huge part is how wellVoice of the Undead does and how much people are looking forward to the third book, so there’s no telling. It’s up to the readers!

Q: Finally before we go, vampires; do you believe in them?

A: I have not yet encountered an actual vampire. But my mind is open!

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