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DISTURBING THE GENRE: EVALUATING POWER STRUCTURES IN YOUNG
ADULT LITERATURE AND CHARTING NEW POSSIBILITIES WITH PUSH
THOMAS JOSEPH LOVE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Thomas Joseph Love
I would like to thank, first and foremost, Dr. Kenneth Kidd for being a mentor to
me for the past four years, starting with the day he encouragingly asked me in his
comments on an essay if I had ever contemplated graduate school. Without his guidance
and supportive advice, this project and much of my academic career would not exist. I
would also like to thank Dr. John Cech, whose immense knowledge of his subject makes
him a most valuable resource. And I offer my gratitude to all of my friends in the
department who have made the past two years magnificently enjoyable and have
provided me with a stellar finale to my time in Gainesville.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii
A B S T R A C T .................................................................................................... . v
IN TR O D U C TION ............................................. .. ......... .. ................ .
PU SH IN G A NEW A GEND A .................................................. .............................. 7
EXISTING POW ER STRUCTURES.................... ......... ........................ ...............12
"NEW VOICES": SPEAKING TO THE ADOLESCENT AND TRANSCENDING
BARRIERS ..................................... ................................. ........... 21
Brian Jam es's Pure Sunshine (2002) ........................................................ .... ........ 23
Billy M errell's Talking in the Dark (2003) ........................................ ............... 28
Tanuj a Desai Hidier's Born Confused (2002) .................... .....................29
Patricia M cCormick's Cut (2002) ...................... .... ... ..... ..................... .......33
Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (1974) and Chris Wooding's Kerosene
(2 0 0 2 ) .......................... ............................................................. .. 3 5
GOING TO THE SOURCE AND GETTING A RESPONSE ......................................43
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ............................ ......... .......................................................48
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............... ... ..................... ...............50
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
DISTURBING THE GENRE: EVALUATING POWER STRUCTURES IN YOUNG
ADULT LITERATURE AND CHARTING NEW POSSIBILITIES WITH PUSH
Thomas Joseph Love
Chair: Kenneth Kidd
Major Department: English
In 2002, Scholastic published its first books in its Young Adult (Y.A.) imprint
PUSH, and since then has signaled a way to reevaluate the Y.A. market. PUSH works to
rethink what the Y.A. genre is capable of through its 21 books, its website, its marketing,
and its writing contests which seek to publish new teenage authors. Although the market
for adolescent literature is quite diverse and some other books are challenging the genre
in interesting ways, PUSH has a whole institution behind it which allows this imprint to
work on a larger scale. Using Roberta Seelinger Trites's Disturbing the Universe for
theoretical contextualization of power and repression in Y.A. literature, I examine the
ways that PUSH exposes problematic social structures both in reality and within the
genre. Investigating the difference in dynamics that results from the two common Y.A.
threads-the Bildungsroman and the Entwicklungsroman-we can see how PUSH is able
to empower adolescents from within different structures. And by looking at the
compulsion to define adolescence and adolescent literature, we can see other problematic
issues of adult control over teenage life.
To represent some of the more interesting titles PUSH has to offer, I use Brian
James's Pure Sunshine, Billy Merrell's Talking in the Dark, Tanuja Desai Hidier's Born
Confused, Patricia McCormick's Cut, and Chris Wooding's Kerosene to explore the
different formulas that pervade Y.A. literature and to show how many of the PUSH books
reinvent, abridge, or reject those formulas. Finally, the PUSH website and its writing
contests which offer young adults the ability to publish work for their own market prove
the imprint's commitment to empowering adolescents and to initiating a relationship that
demands a response from them. For only when we understand these power structures
controlling adolescent literature and those reading it can we begin to reformulate the way
we view adolescence.
In 2002, Scholastic's Young Adult imprint, PUSH, published its first four books
after nearly five years of intense planning. Since then, twenty books from twelve
different authors plus one anthology of writing of young adults have appeared. The goal
for this series was to provide groundbreaking, compelling, yet also ethically responsible
works for a young adult audience. PUSH hoped to get its audience actively involved in
creating and critiquing its own literature-to inspire an interaction and response on the
part of its target readership. Granted, when it comes to Y.A. literature, some of the
individual PUSH titles have only been updating the issues rather than reinventing them;
yet when taking into account the entirety of the project-the website, the marketing, the
writing contests, as well as the books collectively-PUSH is a fascinating and
remarkably successful experiment.
What makes PUSH such an interesting candidate for study is its scope. PUSH
produces each of its books with the unifying goal of rethinking traditional Y.A. literature.
Certainly specific non-PUSH titles in the Y.A. market are attempting this goal as well,
and even some realize it more effectively, but no single book is able to do the work that
PUSH can do as an institution, working on multiple levels from marketing to production
to audience response. No one aspect of PUSH alone is unique; only when added together
is PUSH able to signify something new for the Y.A. market. In this case, the sum is
greater than the parts. I am not claiming that Y.A. literature is homogenous, only that
PUSH is able to rework the genre on a larger scale. While not every PUSH book can be
described as innovative, many titles are provocative, insightful, and popular enough to
garner support from both adults and adolescents. For these adults advocating a new way
of evaluating Y.A. literature and for the adolescents reading it, we can use PUSH to
continue the current trend in criticism that looks at Y.A. literature as something worthy of
theoretical approaches and at young adults as capable of utilizing the tools that such
approaches would provide.
Y.A. literature is largely made up of stories that either implicitly or explicitly deal
with power structures. And adults who want to encourage young adults to think critically
about their world can use some of the PUSH titles to initiate this development as most of
the PUSH books expose social power structures, from patriarchy to imperialism to forms
of dominance in schools or religious institutions, just to name a few. And even those
books that do not fundamentally undermine these power structures can still be utilized,
once young adults are empowered with the proper theoretical tools, for analyzing those
structures that remain intact. The structures are not exactly the same in every situation,
of course, which is another reason PUSH deserves study. Since each book is independent
to a degree, the PUSH series is able to explore the many different power structures as
manifested in varied ways. This complexity allows for discrepancies in the debate
between empowerment and repression and in what is deemed appropriate for adolescents
in relation to these dialectics. And because the PUSH books are so cleverly tailored to
their audience-relying on edgy plots, frank dialogue, and inventive characters-young
adults will be willing to use them to take these steps towards critical thought.
PUSH as an institution succeeds even more than its published books. By
expanding its arena to include outreach to its target audience, PUSH works to connect
with young adults and empower them not just in critical thought when analyzing
literature, but also in the real world. Adolescents are able to communicate with PUSH
editors about the books they want to read, they can respond and review what PUSH is
offering them, and they even have the potential opportunity to work with PUSH to
produce new literature by winning an online contest for new novelists. It is not just the
books, but also the outreach into schools (through Scholastic's writing contests) and into
the young adult community that makes this project unique. The power structures that
influence young adults' lives get investigated by multiple areas of PUSH's work.
In her book Disturbing the Universe: Power & Repression in Adolescent
Literature, Roberta Seelinger Trites discusses the social and institutional power structures
that Y.A. literature both thematizes and sustains. Many, if not most, adolescent novels
explore themes of power and conflict, and too often it is done problematically. She
evaluates the most common power structure and shows that a majority of Y.A. literature
relies on the same basic formula. Trites states that most of these books follow a similar
construct, which starts with the protagonist's attempt to rebel in an unacceptable manner
against a controlling body, merely to be repressed and forced to rebel again within
acceptable limits. Only when protagonists act out their insubordination in an
unobjectionable manner are they allowed to find transcendence as characters, which
reinforces institutional and cultural levels of control over adolescents. The interesting
cases are the books which, like many in the PUSH series, reject this formula and create
their own new version. Trites also expounds on the difference between the two narrative
threads in Y.A. literature-the Bildungsromane or coming-of-age novels and the
Entwicklungsromane or novels of development-and we can analyze PUSH's success in
relying on novels that expose power structures from within. Drawing upon Foucault,
Trites explains how to read these dynamics and proposes that we investigate and expose
this predilection towards problematic power structures. Applying her ideas to both
PUSH's creation and its books, we can begin to rethink Y.A. literature.
Here, I will explore the creation of PUSH and the Y.A.environment (both in
audience and in critics) at the time of its arrival. PUSH's history, while short, is
compellingly necessary to understanding the problems Y.A. literature has faced in recent
years, both as a market and as a canon. By analyzing the ongoing attempts to essentialize
adolescence and adolescent literature, I intend to show that the power structures within
Y.A. books are mirrored not only by existing real-world counterparts, but also in the
scholarship and criticism surrounding the books. The issues of control facing
adolescence and adolescent literature form a bridge between power structures that are
strictly literary and those that are strictly parts of reality.
I also examine individual titles that are particularly strong in proving PUSH as an
asset to the genre. Of the 21 books, I will analyze Chris Wooding's Kerosene, Patricia
McCormick's Cut, and Brian James's Pure Sunshine, each members of the inaugural
PUSH publishing. I also look at Tanuja Desai Hidier's Born Confused, which was
published later that year as well as Billy Merrell's Talking in the Dark which was
released in 2003. Each of these books looks at a different formulation of power
structures in Y.A. literature, some working on specific issues and others more generally
commenting on the structure of control over adolescence. Pure Sunshine uses the story
of a teenager doing acid to avoid, or at least abridge, the common power formula for Y.A.
literature and to challenge the limits of acceptability for controversial issues in what
adolescents read. In Talking in the Dark, Merrell explores, among other themes, the
power dynamic in which adults try to control adolescent sexuality and try to make any
discussion of it taboo. Born Confused examines race, ethnicity and culture as areas in
which power and repression are played out, while also serving as a great example of what
individual PUSH texts contribute aesthetically to the Y.A. canon. Encompassing a
broader structure, Cut explores new ways to build upon traditional story arcs of power
versus repression and works as a metaphor for "institutional" modes of controlling
adolescence. Finally, Kerosene completely avoids Trites formula for power structures in
Y.A. literature and instead shows a new way to write for adolescents divorced from
regimes of punishment. While many other PUSH books could be used to show
comparatively important power structures, these five work to show the range of ideas that
As stated before, it is not the individual titles that make PUSH unique as much as
the way those books work in conjunction with everything else PUSH does. Most
importantly, I will show how PUSH demands a response from its audience that makes it
different from any other literary institution of its kind. Focusing on the website, the
writing contests, and the potential for young adults to publish through PUSH, I examine
the ways in which PUSH has begun to change the Y.A. market through a new demand
that calls for readers to respond and take control of their own literature.
The inception of PUSH marked a challenge to the traditional view of Y.A.
literature. Of late scholars have begun to analyze literary institutions as well as the texts
that created them.' Such interest is warranted since understanding the formation,
1 Janice Radway's A Feelingfor Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Tastes, and Middle-Class
Desire, Joan Shelley Rubin's The Making of Middle Brow Culture and even a book like Matthew Battles's
motivation, and continuation of these institutions is just as important from a social,
economic, and political standpoint as anything that happens within the pages of the
published books. Investigating Scholastic's progression into the Y.A. market through
PUSH helps to illuminate specific elements currently at play in adolescent literature. To
genuinely appreciate what PUSH is doing, we must first investigate its creation.
Library: An Unquiet History prove that there is a fascination with the institutions that produce, contain, and
publish the texts that rivals the texts themselves.
PUSHING A NEW AGENDA
When Scholastic released its first set of novels under the PUSH imprint, it was not
doing anything new. PUSH allowed the publishing company to enter the Y.A. market,
which at the time Scholastic was not too invested in (the closest it got to successful young
adult literature was the highly popular Goosebumps series which catered to pre- and early
adolescents). Scholastic happened to be the fortunate company that published the Harry
Potter books in America and because of the obvious success of that series, it subsequently
had much leeway in its publishing choices. However, many in publishing felt that the
Y.A. market was underachieving in terms of sales, so any attempt to infiltrate it would
most likely not be financially profitable. Thus, despite having a budget surplus from the
Harry Potter juggernaut, the initial plans for Scholastic to enter the Y.A. field had to be
relatively safe. In the late 1990s, Scholastic editor David Levithan developed a proposal
to lay the groundwork for Scholastic's foray into the Y.A. market. He initially provided a
wide range of ideas on how to do this-proposing paperback reprints of popular young
adult fiction and possibly even, as stated in an intraoffice memo, publishing fantasy
books, since these were seen as tried-and-true options (Memorandum 3-4). In 1998,
Levithan saw the current market as rife with possibilities and the timing perfect for
introducing edgier books. In an early memo, he stated, "We stand at the intersection of
an astonishing array of trends-the rebirth of teen culture, the rise of literary Oprah
novels, the Lilith Fair girl movement, and the increasing presence of Internet booksellers
that cater to teenage readers" (4 Memorandum). The desire to create PUSH was
bolstered by the fact that not only was the spending rate increasing for teenagers, but the
actual population was dramatically growing as well. Levithan pointed out in his memo
that within the next 7 years or so, there would be 50 million teenagers, which meant that
this age group was growing at twice the rate of any other (6 Memorandum). And while
PUSH did not actually publish its first book until 2002, the teen culture rebirth and
population increase he described four years earlier still had the momentum to carry this
From the beginning, Levithan knew that PUSH needed to represent something
new for the market-Scholastic's reputation was for providing quality reading material
for elementary students, which might be counterproductive for this imprint.1 PUSH was
Scholastic's opportunity to "grow up" and tackle new areas of concern for young adults.
When proposing the idea, Levithan wrote, "PUSH books would have 'edge' with a
more honest portrayal than currently exists in much of our fiction ... [T]eenage readers
want to move away from the safe place of middle-grade fiction" (2-3 Memorandum). To
distance PUSH from Scholastic-which worked both to protect Scholastic's image and to
give PUSH a distinct image of its own-the editors decided to make PUSH an imprint,
with the only mention of Scholastic being on the copyright page. Thus, even though it
was subtle, Scholastic was still responsibly serving its readers who grew up from the
Clifford books and classroom order forms and into young adults.
1 Levithan acknowledged this stating, "[T]he red logo is holding our YA books back. Kids who want
'edgy' reading do not want to turn to the publisher they've been seeing in school since they were Clifford
age. Even the word 'scholastic' is contrary to the attitude of a teenage reader of fiction" (3 PUSH).
After over four years of planning, PUSH finally published its first set of books in
February 2002: Pure Sunshine, Cut, You Remind Me of You, and Kerosene. These first
books span topics ranging from drug use, self-mutilation, suicide and eating disorders,
and arson and teenage vandalism. In the end, Scholastic went with what Levithan
believes to be the riskiest choice by publishing first-time authors writing books that dealt
with controversial issues rather than tested hardback novels reprinted in paperback or
books written by established authors. The series is not connected by any theme, author,
character, or style. PUSH now has a few authors with two books in the series (and Brian
James and Kevin Brooks just published their third books), but other than that, the PUSH
books look at a variety of social issues, and in different forms of writing-poetry,
memoir, prose. One of PUSH's aims is to be as diverse as its readership, and based on
how eclectic the first twenty-one books are, it is succeeding.
While PUSH has been fairly successful in reaching its market, the books have
detractors who find fault with the controversial issues the series addresses. Each of the
first four books dealt explicitly with sensitive themes, and the successive books continued
this trend by discussing teenage sexuality (homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual),
adolescent violence in many forms, alcoholism, cultural diversity, and others.2 But
despite the books often being controversial, the main bonding element of each of these
works is that they are committed to their young adult audience. Controversial material is
obviously not automatically a bad thing; how the books handle the issues matters much
more, and PUSH is committed to presenting these topics to a knowing audience who will
2 Not that every PUSH book has a huge controversial issue at the center of it. Kirsten Kemp's two PUSH
novels (I Will Survive and The LDoin, Diaries) focus on high school popularity politics. And Martin
Zusak's G.. iiig the Girl (a sequel to Fi, hl, g Ruben Wolfe) is about two brothers in love with the same
reject the series if it does not respect their intelligence. Again, many other books work
within these same constraints, but PUSH uniquely commands these rules at an
Yet the question remains: Why PUSH? What makes this series stand out from
other Y.A. fiction as more worthy of study? First, PUSH is challenging many of the
traditional trends in Y.A. literature, offering controversial and edgy books that are critical
of what have come before them. And PUSH recognizes that young adults do not want to
read condescending literature or to be tricked into reading didactic "message" books.
Y.A. literature has been plagued since the 1960s and 70s with the ubiquitous "problem
novel," which still saturates the market. Because of the subject matter, some might be
quick to also label the PUSH books as updated versions of the problem novels, with plots
that merely exchange self-mutilation for divorce or bulimia for premarital sex. But
problem novels have negative connotations and are seen as books that substitute
melodrama for realism and lack character development. In Michael Cart's From
Romance to Realism, Roger Sutton remarks, "Instead of a character being the focus of the
novel, a condition (or social concern) became the subject of examination" (65). Cart
himself offers this analogy: "[The problem novel] is to young adult literature what the
soap opera is to legitimate drama" (64). He mentions poor character development,
intense or blinding focus on an issue for plot, and a lack of connection to story as the
reasons these books read more like newspaper articles than novels. This is definitely not
the case with the majority of the PUSH books. Sure, these books can be seen as perhaps
reinventing the problem novel in that most of the books have a social concern grounding
the plot, but that concern is never allowed to supercede all other aspects of the story.
And based solely on the stigma that problem novels are poorly written message stories,
PUSH avoids this categorization again by rejecting mass-produced, one-dimensional
character-filled, "message" books. Cart makes a call to action in response to the problem
books that have inundated the Y.A. market, stating, "[B]ooks won't change anything if
they're formulaic, problem-driven fiction inhabited by cardboard characters who only
skate across the surface of reality" (277). For the PUSH books, the difference is that they
take on somewhat controversial issues but in a way that does not offer a tidy moral lesson
at the end or cater to a preconceived notion of youth that is obviously the fulfillment of
adult fantasies. They avoid the pitfalls that Cart sets up as a barrier to successful
But is that enough to make PUSH unique? To be honest, other books that just as
deftly avoid becoming problem novels can be used to explore these relationships and to
instigate a rethinking of the issues. But this series endeavors to analyze issues of power
and repression, and PUSH succeeds in making a seemingly sundry set of books mesh
together to fulfill this goal. Not only do the books published in the imprint challenge
certain conventions while working from within what is already considered acceptable
limits, but the PUSH website-including the young adult writing contests-and its
interaction and involvement with the adolescent audience propel PUSH to the forefront of
innovative and responsible projects for the Y.A. market. Though PUSH is at its base an
adultist project, it nevertheless offers a solution to the adultist agenda that seeks to
control adolescence. To see what PUSH is doing differently, however, we must first look
at the current trends with Y.A. literature, with theories of adolescence, and the
scholarship around them.
EXISTING POWER STRUCTURES
In Disturbing the Universe, Trites examines the power structures at play in both
adolescent literature and in adolescents' lives. Problematically, these structures revolve
around compulsions to define and essentialize adolescence. Luckily, most theoretical
discussions of adolescence at least recognize the problems with creating a proper
definition of this concept; adolescence remains elusive because, as Patricia Meyer Spacks
reminds us, it is a construct. In The Adolescent Idea, Spacks quotes John and Virginia
Demos's point that "adolescence constitutes an idea masquerading as fact" (6). Spacks
states that the current beliefs about adolescence tell us "[n]ot necessarily a great deal
about how the young live and act, but much about how adults think and feel" (9). Her
analysis takes up adolescence in much the same way Jacqueline Rose famously confronts
society's construction of childhood in The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of
Children's Fiction. Rose states that because such a disconnect between adults and
childhood exists, there is "no body of literature which rests so openly on an
acknowledged difference, a rupture almost, between writer and addressee. Children's
fiction sets up the child as an outsider to its own process, and then aims, unashamedly, to
take the child in" (2). Adolescent literature works in much the same way in that it denies
adolescents political agency and reinforces hegemonic power structures. The constant
play with semantics and juggling of definitions is just masking this more potent problem
with adolescent literature.'
Historically, even though adolescents have always existed and been given attention,
the idea of"adolescence" as something that needed a definition and a consciously aware
focus was not fully realized until the 20th Century. In the introduction to The Fin-de-
Sikcle Culture ofAdolescence, John Neubauer states that "adolescence 'came of age' in
the decades around 1900 not only because the term itself had little currency earlier,
but...because interlocking discourses about adolescence emerged in psychoanalysis,
psychology, criminal justice, pedagogy, sociology, as well as in literature" (6). In 1904,
G. Stanley Hall wrote the seminal two-volume Adolescence, with its focus on
psychological and physical growth of the human body and mind during that specific
phase of life, and since its publication it has been considered a milestone in the
concretization of the concept of adolescence. Although much in his work offers little to
help the study of adolescent literature, he explicitly calls attention to the importance of
recognizing the adolescent's relationship to literature in a way that anticipates the
motives behind the creation of PUSH. He states:
It is, I believe, high time that ephebic literature should be recognized as a class by
itself, and have a place of its own in the history of letters and criticism. Much of it
should be individually prescribed for the reading of the young, for whom it has a
singular zest and is a true stimulus and corrective. This stage of life now has what
might almost be called a school of its own. Here the young appeal to and listen to
each other as they do not to adults, and in a way the latter have failed to appreciate.
Again, no biography, and especially no autobiography, should henceforth be
1 Despite their similarities, however, it is important to keep adolescent and children's literature separate.
Too often, any critical reactions to adolescent literature get subsumed into criticism on children's literature,
which becomes problematic in that different structures are in place for the two of them. As someone so
concerned with destroying arbitrary categorizations, my commitment to retaining different classifications
for children's literature and adolescent literature might be seen as confusing. But these categories do not
exist to define what each necessarily is, but rather what is being done with them and within them.
complete if it does not describe this period of transformation so all-determining for
future life to which it alone can often give the key. (589)
Although some of his ideas are dated, he effectively posits the need for adolescents to
read, and to read about themselves in a way that many adults fail to recognize.
Yet therein lies another of the problems-when adolescents read about
themselves, they are all too often reading destructive material. And this does not mean
the controversial themes or plot points in PUSH that are often so quickly attacked.
Worse than any scenes of drugs or sex or violence that leave censors drooling in a fit of
bowdlerizing excitement are the books which have entire plots reinforcing existing power
structures. Spacks speaks to the need to explore novels of adolescence: "Novels ...
about the young focus attention on memory's ambiguities ... [D]istortions inform the
literature of adolescence, shape the myths with whose aid we purport to understand the
young. Examining these myths, we examine ourselves" (17). The myth she describes is
called the "teenage mystique" by Thomas Hine in his book The Rise andFall of the
American Teenager. The teenage mystique includes everything we "love, fear, and think
we know about the basic nature of young people... This mystique encourages adults to
see teenagers (and young people to see themselves) not as individuals but as potential
problems" (11). It is not teenagers who are the problem, but rather the ideals we espouse
about them and force upon them. In this unsettling continual need to balance the
polarizing and diverse issues that arise during the teenage years, adults turn adolescents
into metaphors, into easy and ineffective definitions that lack any complexity except in
that they paradoxically represent both a nostalgic time and a time that must be feared.
And these problematic myths need to be studied because they come at a price-through a
power-structure imposition. Using Foucault's theories, Trites explores those dynamics of
power found within adolescent literature. Common to almost every young adult novel is
a protagonist's anarchical attempt at rebellion which always fails, to be followed by a
more contained rebellion that remains within the confines of societal order which is
allowed to be successful; Trites succinctly shows this in chart form:
dynamic of (over)regulation unacceptable rebellion repression acceptable
rebellion- transcendence-within-accepted-limits (34)
Trites goes on to state that "no institution exists in isolation; no discursive construct
possibly can. Since institutions such as school, religion, church, identity politics, and
family are invested in socializing adolescents, the depictions of these institutions in
adolescent literature are logically implicated in the establishment of narrative authority
and in the ideological manipulation of the reader" (142). Spacks also realizes the
importance of these structures. Like Trites, she explicitly states that her book is about
power: "Not by initial intent, but by necessity, this is a book about politics, about power
relations. The reinterpretations by which our culture keeps its balance obsessively define
and locate, redefine and relocate, power" (17). The ways in which adolescence is
undermined and indoctrinated with hegemonic thinking occur at some point on just about
every level of adolescent literature. The major problem here is that a problematic and
deleterious amount of control being exercised over adolescence.
Trites spends more time on this subject while exploring, interestingly enough, the
Harry Potter phenomenon in an essay published a year after her book. "[G]iven that the
genre's underlying agenda may perhaps be to assure adolescents that they need to get
over themselves and just grow up," she states, "perhaps adolescent literature is, as
Jacqueline Rose would have us think of children's literature, always already impossible.
Indeed, adolescent literature may be as intent on thwarting adolescent power as Lord
Voldemort is on obliterating Harry Potter" (484). Along with this, an even bigger
problem is that the majority of critics, scholars, and adults in general focus their attention
on an area of adolescent literature that is completely overrated. What adolescents do read
is never given as much attention as what they should read. Thus, PUSH can claim
another justification for being studied-the books are being read by teens and are quite
popular with them. If we ignore this fact, then adolescence is again controlled and
defined under false pretenses, and the reality of adolescent experience is denied. By
limiting adolescent literature, one effectively limits adolescence itself. It is an act of
Much has been done in the way of definitively categorizing adolescent literature. A
random sampling of some of the major critical and pedagogical resources (textbooks such
as Kenneth Donelson and Allen Pace Nilsen's Literaturefor Today's Young Adults and
W. Tasker Witham's The Adolescent in the American Novel to books such as Jana
Varlejs's compilation Young Adult Literature in the Seventies and even Trites's own
book) shows a decidedly unstable definition of adolescent literature despite most writers'
conviction that they can succeed in producing the one supposedly inarguable definition.
In one of the most ambitious yet unrewarding attempts, Maia Pank Mertz and David
England surveyed adolescent literature and identified what they felt were the ten
definitive characteristics of it. Despite the attempts, all the aforementioned authors create
problematic definitions that rarely work in the way that they are intended. Most times
when categories are established, they are done so under the guise of being as close to
universally acceptable as possible. But this only ostensibly works since no two articles or
books I surveyed actually agreed exactly on a definition. In "Rating, Ranking, Labeling
Adolescent Literature," Alleen Pace Nilsen writes about the confusion over the terms
related to writing for adolescents. After polling nearly 100 librarians, educators,
academics, and publishers, she analyzes their feedback and determines that no one agrees
on a definition for the categories of"adolescent literature," "juvenile fiction," "young
adult literature," and "junior (or teen) novel." Nilsen finds that anything from confusion
over intended age groups to pejorative lexicon affected the responses and reactions of
those polled, and she realizes that the definitions have the most similarities amongst
people in the same field (i.e. librarians tended to categorize most like each other, rather
than like educators or publishers). Yet ultimately, she reiterates that creating universal
definitions is nearly impossible. Patty Campbell calls this question of definition the first
paradox of contradictory truths related to young adult fiction: "YA fiction by its very
nature defies categorization. Like adolescence, its definition is constantly shifting" (363).
But why are so many people invested in propagating these definitions and the
boundaries they imply? Obviously, many of these definitions exist as a means of
narrowing the scope of the books that explore issues on Y.A. literature; this is
understandable in that it serves to clarify what an author intends to study and do.
However, most do not focus on the limitations of these definitions, and they do not pay
attention to the implications of leaving certain works out. I am not positing that the
incoherence of all these authors working individually towards a concrete definition is a
bad thing; in fact, I feel quite the opposite. Let everything remain confused and
inconsistent. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) understands this,
as it releases a list of "Best Books for Young Adults" which has so far each year
included, among the more traditional adolescent works, books deemed as "adult" but still
recognized because teenagers read them (ALA). YALSA also annually bestows the Alex
Award to ten titles that are actually required to be considered "adult" books-one
stipulation is that the book has to come from a publisher's adult list-as a means of
appreciating the fact that young adults quite often are drawn to and read adult books and
to highlight the ones that are the best of what the Y.A. readership likes most. Although
all these awards are still determined by adults,2 this is a step in the right direction for
showing that it is important to pay attention to the needs and desires of young adults.
David Levithan also recognized this trend when he was writing proposals for PUSH,
stating, "As the Amazon.com 'Young Adult Best Sellers List' attests, the line between
'Young Adult' and 'Adult' fiction has blurred considerably, to the point that Young
Adult is largely a superfluous categorization" (6). He goes on to rhetorically ask which
of the two aforementioned categories The Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prejudice, and
The Joy Luck Club fall into, and posits the answer that they fit both, just like the PUSH
books will. This is coincidental because the history of these stipulations came from the
publishing industry. In the 1970s, Sylvia Engdahl commented on this: "That designation
[teenage novel] is determined solely by the structure of the publishing business... The
raison d'etre of that category is not literary but commercial" (132). Recognizing the
need for classification as part of an economic ploy reinforces how unnecessary and futile
these categorizations are. If we admit that the attempts at definition do more to muddle
concepts than to illuminate them, then we can forget about even trying to posit a
universal answer and instead focus on more important areas such as recognizing
2 YALSA is also smart enough to ask for young adult feedback, and publishes an annual list of the best
books chosen by high school students in book clubs across the country, and releases the results on
YALSA's "Teens' Top Ten Books" page.
problematic trends in the adolescent literature canon and exploring the new arenas that
Y.A. literature is creating to help solve these problems. We must return to the simple fact
that the adult need to essentialize adolescent literature stems from an even larger
problem: the need to essentialize adolescence.
But adolescence is obviously not so easily simplified. Adolescence is, as Hines
shows, one of the most dangerous and scary times to those seeking to repress many
aspects of life such as sexuality, political agency, and critical awareness of self. The
subtle (and not-so-subtle) censorship of adolescent literature comes because this is the
age group that wantonly flaunts these characteristics and proves that they are intrinsic.
Most of the PUSH authors refuse to succumb to the rules that forbid characters to act in
such ways, and that is what makes the series such a strong candidate for study. These
books work within the academically and pedagogically popular genre of realism, which
means they can challenge while ostensibly remaining in an unchallenged mold.
That said, the call to rethink the past trends in Y.A. literature is not necessarily
new. In the 1970s, when many people began advocating a critical look at adolescent
literature (see the essays by Natalie Babbitt, June Jordan, and Anne G. Scharf in Varlejs's
collection), it often remained in that nascent stage-an awareness of the need for a
critical approach without anyone actually going through with it. Some critics were
offering close readings and some were going beyond merely the pedagogical issues
related to adolescent literature, but they were the exception. Trites calls attention to this
in the introduction to Disturbing the Universe: "[T]he critical study of adolescent
literature has developed as a field without any great reliance on some of the post-
structural theories that best help explicate the issues of power in the books that teenagers
read" (x). It is time to stop being merely pedagogical and to truly get critical and
theoretical with adolescent literature.3 And PUSH, even on the preliminary basis of its
oeuvre, is an excellent option to start to practice this.
3 Some new books are successfully avoiding this trap by not setting out to categorize. A few contemporary
critics are leaving categories alone and merely applying theorists to specific readings. Martha Westwater's
Giant Despair Meets Hopeful: Kristevan Readings ofAdolescent Fiction works through specific texts using
the theories of Julia Kristeva. Karen Coats applies the work of Kristeva as well and many of Lacan's
theories to adolescent literature in Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in
Children's Literature. And Trites is influenced by Foucault's ideas on power for her book and essay.
"NEW VOICES": SPEAKING TO THE ADOLESCENT AND TRANSCENDING
One of the most interesting aspects of PUSH is that these books are most often
chosen by the adolescents themselves, not at the behest of a librarian or teacher. Until
October 2004 with the release of Brian James's Perfect World, all the PUSH books were
paperback and subsequently were less likely to be stocked by librarians. In addition, as
stated before, many of the books deal with somewhat taboo subjects which often keeps
them off of conservative school reading lists. Most of the PUSH books sold are to
young adults themselves and are experienced as extracurricular reading. And proof that
the PUSH books are capturing the interest of young adults can be seen in the books'
sales. Certain titles are stronger than others-Cut is by far the most popular, with over
200,000 copies sold-but the entire enterprise has, according to Levithan's conservative
estimation, reached over half a million.
In an interesting restriction for the series, practically every PUSH book limits
personal empowerment for its protagonist within the confines of adolescence. Despite
the characters achieving a certain level of autonomy in their lives, they must remain
within the social systems delimited by adulthood. Trites discusses the difference between
full agency and empowerment of Y.A. characters who reach adulthood within the books
and the self-realization that occurs for a teenage character whose journey remains within
adolescence by comparing the diverging paths of the Bildungsroman and the
Entwicklungsroman. The definitions for Trites are simple: if a protagonist comes of age
and is an adult by the end of the book, then the story is a Bildungsroman; in an
Entwicklungsroman, the character does not reach adulthood (10). The majority of PUSH
books fall into the category of the Entwicklungsroman since most of the protagonists do
not necessarily come of age but rather deal with a specific problem and realize their
control over that one aspect of their lives. While this at first might seem to be another
one of those unnecessary and unproductive disagreements over definition, the difference
between the two forms is important because they offer different conclusions about
authority, power, and repression. Trites calls attention to this:
Note that the Bildungsroman affords the protagonist slightly more social power at
the end of the novel than an Entwicklungsroman does. Since most YA novels are
Entwicklungsromane that end before the protagonist reaches adulthood, few of
them depict their protagonists as fully enfranchised within their culture. In other
words, Bildungsromane tend to allow for adolescents to overcome the condition of
adolescence by becoming adults. As adults, they have relatively more social power
than they had as adolescents. If we make the mistake of collapsing all adolescent
literature into the rubric of the Bildungsroman, we miss the power differential
between novels of development and coming-of-age novels. (19)
So what do we make of the fact that a majority of the PUSH books are the less
enfranchising Entwicklungsromane? At the end of most PUSH novels, the protagonist
has overcome his or her plot problem, but only from within adolescence; the protagonists
rarely journey into adulthood to address any overbearing power structures. Is the
Entwicklungsroman another step down from adolescent awareness of social issues,
another way of distracting young adults from questioning power structures?
Interestingly, it is quite the opposite. Because the Entwicklungsromane always end with
a power structure still in place over the protagonist (rather than the protagonists of the
Bildungsromane who theoretically attain autonomy), it is easier to use them to focus on
those remaining power structures. The Entwicklungsroman is by definition less
empowering, so the fact that the PUSH books supercede the natural trajectory of the
genre means that there is a conscious effort on the part of PUSH to break down barriers
for young adults while they remain within that age bracket. Instead of ending a book
with the protagonist free from repression as an enfranchised adult, these books end with
the protagonists remaining adolescents within a dominating infrastructure.
Entwicklungsromane do not let the reader forget about his or her current situation, which
is important if we want to show them that empowerment is not merely the product of age
but of realization of social and political situations. Bildungsromane cause more damage
because they reinforce the idea that empowerment and social consciousness are strictly in
the realm of adulthood. Thus, PUSH's books which offer empowerment to their
adolescent protagonists while not denying or masking the continuing structures of
repression are the most effective at opening adolescents' eyes to power dynamics. Brian
James's Pure Sunshine explores this situation intelligently and responsibly.
Brian James's Pure Sunshine (2002)
One of the first PUSH books can also be seen as the most controversial for the
imprint. Brian James's Pure Sunshine deals with two days in the lives of three high
school students that culminates with an outing to a club and an acid trip. The book is
actually short enough to almost be considered a novella, and tells a disarmingly simple
story. It follows Brendon, the narrator, and his buddies Kevin and Will on two separate
days in which the momentum of the story always revolves around their impending drug
use. In fact, the novel starts at the moment when the three friends have just taken a hit of
acid and goes through all the stages-the slow building of the drug, the high, and then
eventually "coming down." After this experience, the book goes through their next day
at school and their developing plans to go downtown that night, ending with Brendon
having a bad trip, leaving the club on his own, and sobering up in the morning with the
help of his crush Melissa. The penultimate chapter borders on the schmaltzy with
Melissa as a deus ex machine, but the book saves itself in the last chapter by opening up
Brendon's future to multiple options and avoiding a tidy ending.
The most interesting aspect of this book, and its source of contention, is how it
diverges from traditional Y.A. fiction on the subject of drug use. Normally, a
controversial Y.A. book is not approved and will not be published if it cannot ultimately
be used as a didactic pedagogical tool. By choosing to publish this book, PUSH is
showing an appreciation for the intelligence of its audience and an understanding that
adolescents are capable of handling mature literature about issues that apply to their lives.
Spoon-feeding young adults merely reinforces the idea that they are not ready for critical
thought. Luckily, PUSH realizes that Y.A. books can be complicated, somewhat
ambiguous, but still ethically responsible. Pure Sunshine has a discernable conclusion on
drug use, it just makes it subtly and non-polemically.
The controversy surrounding Pure Sunshine proves that many adults are unwilling
to grant adolescents agency. David Levithan has stated that this is the single most
complained about book in the PUSH series for specifically the reason that adults see it as
unapologetically ambivalent towards drug use. Because the ending avoids a PSA-style
overt message and instead relies on the reader to conclude that the drug use did not
improve the protagonist's life, some adults misread the book as a complicit endorsement
of drugs. True, James presents drug use as appealing and intriguing-he understands that
youth have a fascination with illegal activities and taboo issues-but he never states that
drugs are a positive influence. Instead of pretending that young adults are not curious
about drugs and are innately averse to them, he presents the situation honestly and lets the
readers infer from the actions of the characters that drugs are ultimately unappealing.
And James never shows drugs without consequence; rather, he lets his reader connect the
lines of the story to come away understanding the negatives of drug use.
James presents the protagonist's first trip as ostensibly a positive, or at least
routine, event which could understandably upset adults who do not want to see
adolescents reading books that glorify drug use. But much of what happens during this
first trip recurs later in the novel with upsetting results and the juxtaposition of these two
events presents a lingering feeling that the drug use is far from glorious. Even in the first
trip, the night's events are not sugar-coated. The narrator describes the end of the night
activities: "Will and I went over and shook Kevin out of his paranoid coma. He had
spent the whole time he was peaking facedown, drooling on Sally's bed. I shook my
head, not knowing how he could handle that kind of nightmare" (30). While Brendon
and Will enjoy their trip (aside from the acid-induced nausea they feel during a late-night
excursion to a diner), Kevin's trip causes him to act paranoid, fall asleep, and end up in a
puddle of his own drool. While some adults are not satisfied unless every literary
depiction of drug use ends with death, maiming, and/or all-consuming guilt as
punishment for the characters' actions, James portrays the common and natural
consequences of drug use. Sometimes people use drugs and little comes of it, and even
sometimes something positive. But these characters are not idealized rock stars or
celebrity role models-they are high school students indulging their curiosity. James
makes the bigger problem Brendon's growing discontent with his relationships, showing
that his drug use stems from his lack of an ability to connect with people on an intimate
and productive level. When his final trip leaves him wandering the streets of
Philadelphia, shivering and vomiting on himself, it is quite clear that James is criticizing
his character's dependence on drugs over healthier human connections.
While much of what is impressive about Pure Sunshine is how it rejects a
traditional reaction to the subject matter, the overarching plot loosely follows the format
that Trites criticizes in Disturbing the Universe: from regulation to unacceptable rebellion
to repression to acceptable rebellion and finally to transcendence-within-limitations. As
the first variable in Trites's formula, regulation is assumed because the characters are
teenagers in high school and must exist within specific confines. Brendon participates in
an unacceptable rebellion-taking acid-and is punished when his trip goes bad and he
ends up vomiting in the park in the middle of the night, which works as the repression
Trites discusses to reinstate boundaries over adolescence. However, for most novels
following this formula, a whole act still has to occur in which a new form of acceptable
rebellion takes place and the character realizes transcendence in an adult-approved way.
For Pure Sunshine, this final act takes place in three pages and does not work in a way
that would necessarily get the parental stamp of approval. Through an exchange with his
crush Melissa, Brendon realizes that his actions are self-destructive and credits her with
saving his life by making him understand that they have an important relationship as a
support system for each other. Instead of feeling trapped in his own life, he sees a
purpose and understands that he has basically limitless opportunities waiting to be
explored. The book ends with Brendon going through a small list of possibilities for his
life at that specific moment: possibly going to the country to fish, or going to his friend's
house, or going "north the way of Santa Claus and falling stars" (159). James ends the
book on a positive note, but one that does not necessarily feel like his character is
stagnated in a hopeless power structure.
Some might find this subversively problematic as it pretends that Brendon has
freedom but in actuality is still somewhat trapped. But I do not subscribe to the ideology
that discourse which pushes the envelope in certain regards yet ultimately falls victim to
reinforcing certain dominant systems is more dangerous than the discourse that outright
supports it. The former is problematic and at times self-defeating, but it nonetheless
results in critical thinking more often than the latter. And Pure Sunshine does not
reinforce any system of domination in the sense that Trites describes. Brendon does not
promise to never touch drugs again; when listing his options for immediate plans for his
life, he states, "Maybe smoke a joint and get in touch with nature. Maybe stay sober and
see where I could find excitement" (159). And he does not become an honor roll student
with a picture perfect girlfriend and live happily ever after. In fact, the reader is not
given any real indication that Brendon and Melissa will end up more than close friends.
So Pure Sunshine avoids collapsing into a more common, repressive Y.A. formula. To
say that James's book mimics Trites's Y.A. model in fitting Brendon's rebellion within
sanctioned limits, or to fault this book for downgrading the protagonist's rebellion from
using acid to smoking marijuana, especially in comparison with other books dealing with
similar themes, seems silly and inaccurate at best. Realizing his freedom as an individual
to accomplish things on his own and to be able to act like an adult with agency despite
still being a teenager is exactly what Y.A. literature needs to reinforce if we hope to break
down the barriers that get transported from adolescence to adulthood.
Billy Merrell's Talking in the Dark (2003)
One of the most common adult beliefs imposed on adolescence is the denial of
sexuality. Billy Merrell's Talking in the Dark nicely illuminates how the PUSH series
avoids these traditional trappings. Homosexuality has become less taboo since the first
young adult novels dealt with it overtly in the 1960s, although it is still often censored in
high school curricula. In Merrell's poetry memoir, the protagonist deals with his parents'
divorce, his problems at school, and coming to terms with his sexuality. The story does
not let any one problem overwhelm the narrative or the people in it, and refuses to treat
sexuality as a plot device. In fact, his memoir is groundbreaking for young adult
literature in that the poems avoid focusing on his homosexuality and instead deal with the
everyday problems of dating and finding someone to love. The book moves past most
works which try to deny adolescents a sexuality and even past the more progressive
literature that is willing to focus on sex, into allowing sexuality to be an innate aspect of
young adult lives which is never questioned as inappropriate.
The first poem that offers a scene of childhood experimentation is "Back at the
Playhouse," which tells of the young protagonist's encounter with his neighbor Christy.
"She undoes her pants and says to/undo mine. She is seven or eight,/but one year older
than me and four/inches taller, so I do. There we are,//two kids, curious, nervous,
naked/from the waist down, when her father/opens that little pink door and/finds his
daughter in my arms" (12). Merrell recognizes that children are curious beings, despite
what adults want to believe (or want to forget). Because of the reaction of Christy's
father, the protagonist feels he has done "a bad thing"-"[n]ot sure why or what, but
something" (12). Again, the adult is the one who has a problem and must instill guilt in
the children for their natural inquisitiveness. This type of scene would be enough to get
the book banned from many classrooms, but the PUSH series still allows the authors to
remain honest in their portrayals of childhood and adolescence.
The first homosexual encounter in Talking in the Dark comes in the first poem of
Part 2 of the book, "Sleepover." Here, Merrell juxtaposes a childhood incident where the
protagonist mixes a bunch of chemicals that accidentally destroys his family's lawn with
a sleepover at his friend's house when he was seventeen and took his first hit of acid,
which led to his first kiss with a boy. With this simple event, Merrell shows his
character's awakening to previously suppressed emotions and making a step towards
acceptance of his own sexuality. The kiss does not get overdramatized-it is merely two
lines of the poem. "He gave me a moment for the world do dissolve,/then kissed it [the
acid] out of my mouth" (35). This event reminds him of the earlier childhood scene: "I
think of the little boy giving up by the fence,/wondering if the grass will ever grow back"
(35). Poetry, as a medium, often allows for remarkable subtlety, and Merrell takes full
advantage of that in creating a simple, effective, and moving scene of a wakening teenage
sexuality and all the anxiety and excitement that entails for a young adult. And by
including discussions of adolescent sexuality in his book, he is able to attack the
imposing adult mindset that seeks to control young adults' agency by denying their
ability to function similarly to adults. The teenage mystique that Hines elucidated is
dismantled within Merrell's pages.
Tanuja Desai Hidier's Born Confused (2002)
Another one of the best and most interesting of the PUSH novels is Tanuja Desai
Hidier's Born Confused, which continues PUSH's commitment to producing work that
goes against adult impositions of sexuality and additionally explores issues of ethnicity
and culture. Born Confused tells the story of Dimple Lala, an American-born Indian who
must navigate between her inward leanings towards the pop-American culture she has
grown up in and her outward appearance as a minority living with her immigrant parents.
Set during the summer between Dimple's junior and senior years of high school, the book
presents a first-person narrative that follows the protagonist as she experiences two
potential love interests, a tumultuous relationship with her best friend, her first exposure
to "college life" (including alcohol and marijuana), and finally her appreciation for her
family and heritage. The book is funny, intelligent, insightful, and always entertaining.
At nearly 500 pages, Born Confused is by far the longest of the PUSH books, but it is
also one of the most involving and rewarding. Levithan published this novel because it
fit nicely into PUSH's online mission statement which says that the imprint is "dedicated
to new authors and new voices. These writers tell it like it really is. No preaching. No
false endings. No stereotypes or contrivance. Just an honest dose of reality. These books
are funny, observant, heartbreaking, and heartstopping. Just like life" (PUSH). Certainly
this mantra is all part of a marketing strategy, but when PUSH produces books like Born
Confused, the hype can be believed.
Interestingly, the comment about publishing new voices is more pertinent to Born
Confused than to any other PUSH book. Hidier's novel is the first book published for the
Y.A. market written by an Indian-American with an Indian-American protagonist.
Obviously, this alone does not qualify the novel as great literature, but it does show an
active pursuit on the part of PUSH to fill in gaps in the adolescent literature market.
Because of the dearth of books about Indian-Americans, Born Confused could probably
have gotten away with relying on stereotypes and an obvious story arc. However, Hidier
avoids this and, even when it appears that she is regressing to cliche, she ends up creating
truly original scenes that are remarkable for young adult literature. For example, making
Dimple a photographer seems to be just about the easiest hobby to give a Y.A.
protagonist, and when her crush, Karsh, asks to keep one of the pictures she took of her
friend that reveals itself later as a plot twist, the scene is a little too reminiscent of a
similar event in Amy Heckerling's teen classic Clueless. However, this passion of
Dimple's also results in one of the most inspired scenes in the book, where she
photographs her drag queen friend as he transforms into a woman in an early dawn scene
in a diner. This serves as a clever and affecting climax for the novel's continuing themes
of self-actualization and personal transformation.
The book also deftly avoids stereotypes; Dimple's parents are often funny and
used for comic relief, but they are far from one dimensional. For every scene of the
parents feeling out-of-place, there is another that proudly shows their excellent parenting
skills or allows them to articulate their heritage in an intelligent and positive way.
Dimple herself is fairly uneducated about her heritage, and thus the reader gets exposed
throughout the course of the book to another culture in a sensitive, meaningful, and often
personal manner. The book is also quite clearly intent on presenting not only the Indian
culture, but the Indian-American culture, which is obviously often quite different. With
Dimple, the reader gets to explore the underground hip-hop culture of New York City,
the melting pot of ethnicities in Queens, and even extracurricular involvement in a
metropolitan college. The book also offers a sensitive portrayal of being a minority
within a minority with Dimple's lesbian cousin Kavita and in the drag queen Zara.
Dimple learns that while the most conservative of her relatives would not be pleased with
Kavita's lifestyle, lesbianism is common in India. In fact, Dimple's parents are
immediately accepting of Kavita once they learn the truth, and their only anger is directed
at Kavita's lover Sabina who breaks their niece's heart. And during a sleepover with her
cousin and her cousin's lover, Dimple learns of the history of transvestism in India.
-Come on, yaar, Sabina cried. -India is one of the most blatant places in the
world when it comes to transvestism. Drag packs walk down the street in broad
daylight. In fact, the drag queen was probably invented in India-haven't you ever
seen hijra? (315)
Dimple thinks about her past trips to India and remembers groups of men in make-up and
bright fabric, and then continues with the train of thought to consider the diversity of the
entire population of that country. Finally, she thinks to herself, reiterating the book's
continuing theme of growing self-awareness, "It jolted me that I had seen something as a
child that, placed in a new context years down the line, was capable of throwing me off
kilter. It was funny how much you knew without knowing" (316). For a Y.A. novel, this
book is quite advanced in its depth of themes, intelligent humor, and style of prose.
This is not to say that the book is perfect; the final three chapters try to tie up the
story a little too neatly, causing the novel to border on the romantic rather than realistic.
But the ending is partially forgivable because everything leading up to it has been honest
and sensitive, and because the ending itself does not go overboard in pounding home a
message. The book suffers from a premise that does not actually leave it many options to
avoid falling into a trap of some form or another-either the heroine gets the guy at the
end, or her friend does. If Dimple's friend Gwyn got the guy, then it could be read as
succumbing to a colonialist mindset that punishes the minority character in order to
elevate the white character; if Dimple gets the guy, then it is saccharine and overly
romantic. Of course, the option of the college guy not being interested in either of the
girls is never made an option (even though it is probably the most honest one) and so the
reader must settle for the tidy romantic ending. For a book so obviously invested in
positive portrayals of the queer community, it is upsetting that the conclusion reverts to
heteronormative ideology. However, this is a perfect example of a novel that can be used
in a productive way with a new critical lens that seeks to expose the ways hegemonic
thinking infiltrates certain aspects of Y.A. literature and that asks questions commonly
posited in postcolonial or feminist or queer theory: How does this novel attack dominant
ideologies? Does it ever serve to reinforce them? This would be a complicated book to
get into a high school curriculum, but one that is likely to have a great effect on
adolescents, which is why the word-of-mouth advertising these books receive is so
Patricia McCormick's Cut (2002)
One subject lacking much literary representation, especially in fiction and
specifically for adolescents, is body mutilation. Eating disorders rose to prominence and
became a common topic with young adults in the early 1980s with the death of Karen
Carpenter, but other forms of self-inflicted physical damage never received much
attention. While not the first book to deal with "cutting,"' Cut by Patricia McCormick
shows PUSH's commitment to publishing books that have relevant subject matter for
teens written in a way that is not condescending. This topic is not foreign to the Y.A.
market, especially non-fiction titles, but McCormick's book is a deft portrayal of a
teenager dealing with an issue that does not often receive as much focus because many
people still want to ignore it as a contemporary problem facing young adults (and adults
1 Crosses by Shelley Stoehr (1991) and Steven Levenkron's Luckiest Girl in the World (1995) are two
prominent examples of predecessors.
Cut tells the story of Callie, a cutter who becomes selectively mute and is
institutionalized for her self-destructive behavior, and is framed by her conferences with
her counselor. However, what is most interesting about this novel is that, like Pure
Sunshine, it does not merely reinforce Trites's model of traditional Y.A. literature of
youth containment. This book juggles the components of that framework so that Callie
starts the novel with little positive agency-of course she controls her inabilityy to speak
and her cutting, but practically no one would read her dependence on these activities as a
sign of empowerment. At this point in the novel, she is following Trites's model in that
she participates in an unapproved and uncontainable form of rebellion, and she must be
repressed for it. And despite the best intentions of the staff at the residential treatment
facility Sea Pines, Callie still finds a way to cut herself at different times in the novel,
showing an ability to fight against the repressive body. However, one cannot cite this
rebellion as a positive image of working against dominating power structures-self-
destruction tends to be ineffective as a means of battling repression. Although somewhat
simplistic, empowerment in Cut comes with the resolution where Callie realizes that she
has control over her life, runs away from Sea Pines, and literally escapes the institution,
providing a cleverly appropriate metaphor. She does return to the institution at the end,
but this time fully aware of her control of the situation and not subsumed within it.
The most laudable part of Cut is that the empowerment can be almost universally
seen as beneficial by adults and adolescents, despite consequently also enabling a teenage
character to control her own life. Councilors, nurses, and fellow girls from her group all
help her through this time, but Callie ultimately realizes that the control is in her own
hands. By tying most of her issues to problems with family communication and one
specific incident from her past that continues to cause her guilt, the solution to Callie's
problem does seem to counteract the complexities found in the rest of the book; but if one
wants to read this as a book of self-empowerment replacing self-destruction, Callie's
discovery of her agency can be read as an inspiration for the adolescent readers to
similarly realize their own potential effectively, even before adulthood.
Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (1974) and Chris Wooding's Kerosene (2002)
Despite these previous examples, the PUSH books are obviously not the first ones
to be doing something unique and challenging to Y.A. literature. The primary example
that Trites discusses in her book is Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War. She uses the
protagonist Jerry Renault's refrain, taken from T.S. Eliot, questioning, "Do I dare disturb
the universe?" as the basis for the title of her book, and opens the book with an
interpretation of Cormier's novel of school politics as a means of showing the
distribution of power in Y.A. literature. Trites reads The Chocolate War as an example
of Foucauldian ideas of power at play in adolescent literature, with Jerry fighting against
the school gang, the Vigils, against the new school principal, Brother Leon, and against
the forced proposition from both to participate in a chocolate sale fundraiser at his school
Trinity High. In this novel, Cormier does something clever although not necessarily
unique in that the power structure he plots almost reverses the one that Trites sets up as
the common formula for school novels. Cormier's book actually starts with Jerry's
compliance with one of the forces of power-which is typically where the novels end-
and with the Vigils creating assignments for the students of Trinity, which calls for Jerry
to refuse to sell chocolates for 10 days. Thus, in the beginning, Jerry is a character
without much to praise; he is depressed, submissive, and somewhat weak. But once the
10 days pass, Jerry decides to continue to reject Brother Leon's "option" to sell
chocolates, and in turn becomes a hero of sorts for some students. While Brother Leon
does not like this idea, it still falls within what any reader would feel is an acceptable
form of rebellion-the middle stage of Trites's formula. Fearing a power transfer,
Brother Leon enlists the assistance of the Vigils, specifically the ring leader Archie, to
help him force Jerry to stop his game and obey Leon's established social order. When
Jerry still refuses to comply, Archie leads an attack on Jerry that in the end has him
beaten with the whole school watching (Leon included) and the novel ends with Jerry's
fate undetermined. Thus, Jerry's final act of rebellion-choosing to fight in front of the
whole school in a violent showdown-is what normally would open a traditional school
novel, and as a result this climax does not offer Jerry a chance to have any fate other than
Obviously Cormier is not trying to say that those who choose to fight against
repressive forces of power are doomed to fail and should not even muster an attempt; the
book relies on agitating its audience enough to make them want to follow the call from
Eliot to react against these power structures, to disturb the universe. Critics read The
Chocolate War in many ways, from an attack on Vietnam War politics to an indictment
of the Mafia to Cormier's own statement that the book is a metaphor for big business,2
but in every reading it is clear that Jerry is the hero for fighting against these oppressors.
The outcome of The Chocolate War is depressing and pessimistic, but the meaning-
Cormier's call to action-is nonetheless perfectly clear. In the same way that multiplying
a negative number by another negative number results in a positive one, by reversing the
normal trend of the formula, Cormier is consciously able to elicit a positive response to
2 The readings of Anne Scott MacLeod, Perry Nodelman, Jan Susina, and Cormier himself are discussed in
Trites book (24).
the negative outcome of the book. This book is Trites's recurring example of power
structures at play in Y.A. novels and the way in which they invoke a proactive response
from their readership.
The power structures in The Chocolate War are not new to young adult literature,
and the pessimistic finale as a means of inspiring change can be seen working in books
such as George Orwell's 1984 or William Golding's Lord of the Flies. This is a fairly
common motif at play in books read by and assigned to adolescents. However, one
PUSH book does much to counteract the more prevalent power structures more than a
mere reversal of the formula. Chris Wooding's Kerosene is by no means the best PUSH
book, but it does completely ignore the formula for distribution of power in Y.A. novels
that Trites set up. Wooding's novel follows British teenager Cal as he slowly becomes
divorced from his community and infatuated with fire. Ignored by his career-obsessed
parents and losing touch with his childhood best friend Joel, Cal sublimates his feelings
through pyromania. When two of the popular girls, Emma and Abby, decide to prank Cal
into thinking they like him, the situation explodes and Cal becomes even more
determined to rid himself of everyone around him who only exist to hurt him. To make
matters worse, a detective, Ben Deerborn, is on Cal's trail because of his recent arsons,
making Cal feel like the world is completely crashing down on him. When Joel gets in
trouble with some drug dealers, Cal makes a plan to solve all of the problems at once-he
will bum down his school with his best friend's enemies in it to scare them, while taking
his own life in the process. Wooding's novel is one of the more problematic PUSH texts,
not in the way that parents find it controversial (although some have lodged complaints
against the book), but in the fact that the story relies on cliches a little too often and the
plot is quite gimmicky. Abby, one of the pranksters, slowly starts to fall in love with Cal
despite the joke, but she can never properly communicate this to him other because plot
contrivances keep getting in the way. And the detective who is investigating the arson
cases is a ridiculous character who sees in Cal hints of his own son Carl (the name
similarities are not lost on the character nor the reader), the son who he accidentally
killed in a car crash years before. Thus, as Deerborn becomes more aware that Cal is the
only feasible culprit, he also begins to think of ways to protect Cal from the law because
he knows the kid would not survive in juvenile detention.
All this makes for a truly groundbreaking structure of power politics for a Y.A.
novel, but one that is not necessarily positive. Cal starts the novel only setting
containable fires, but gets progressively worse-when he burns down an abandoned
warehouse, he almost unwittingly murders a homeless man sleeping inside it. By the end
of the novel, Cal is planning to immolate himself as he destroys his high school, proving
how far he has come in his acts of rebellion. The cliched and unrealistic ending has Abby
running into the burning school to save Cal, with Deerborn catching him red-handed as
the perpetrator of the past crimes. But this is all, in the context of the book, forgivable
because Cal learns that the girl truly does love him, and that he can trust his best friend.
When Deerborn sees how impressionable Cal is, he decides to throw the case and not
pursue Cal as a suspect, effectively leaving Cal unpunished for his actions. Ben
Deerborn's thoughts are explained in the final pages of the novel:
Ben thought of Carl, of how frail and fragile he had been, and how like Cal he was.
It was as if life had given him a second chance; a shot at redemption. He had
known that Cal would never survive life in prison... Cal was what Carl might have
been. The two, in his eyes, had become the same. He had ended Carl's life; but he
had given Cal a new one, another chance. A clean slate. (194-5)
The book ends with Deerborn at peace with himself, finally resolving his son's death.
The reader is supposed to accept that all the destruction and problems will be forgotten
merely because the protagonist got his girl and a secondary character resolved inner
As mentioned before, the characters and dialogue are not nearly as interesting as
the relationships of power structures and the forms of containment in the novel. Cal
starts out with small, manageable rebellions, only starting tiny fires in the woods. He
then moves to larger ones, destroying private property and eventually almost murdering
someone. At the end, when he is ready to end his life, he has his epiphany, and in doing
so, the author forgives his actions and he remains unpunished. This is an awkward
ending, especially compared to the formula Trites has established that pervades almost all
Y.A. literature. His rebellions are never contained, even when found unacceptable, and
Cal's transcendence comes while burning down his high school-something that is hard
to classify as "within accepted limits." Interestingly, the formula Trites exposed was
most applicable to stories revolving around schools, and of all the early PUSH books,
Kerosene uses that setting the most.3 So while Wooding's novel does not add much by
way of literary merit to the PUSH series, it does provide an intriguing new formula of
power structures and repression that Y.A. novels have not been quick to utilize. If
nothing else, it shows that PUSH is publishing books that cannot be so easily
pigeonholed into the traditional adolescent novel models. Kerosene is productive in that
it opens a new dialogue on what is considered an acceptable power structure for Y.A.
3 Talking in the Dark and Pure Sunshine have scenes that take place in school, but it by no means is the
most prevalent setting. Born Confused beings on the last day of school and continues throughout the
summer when school is not even in session.
literature. And there is an odd sense of empowerment in Kerosene-Abby has to
convince Cal that he is a strong person, that he has influence in the world and that he
helped her become a better person, and this gives Cal the motivation to abandon his
suicide attempt. As he leaves the burning school, Cal knows what he has done is wrong
and shows remorse for his actions, and the reader is basically told that his new
relationship with Abby will make him a changed man and resolve his pyromaniacal
desires. In fact, as Deerborn watches the school burn from outside, he thinks of the two
teenagers: "All [Deerborn] could see was the way Cal's hand slipped into that of the
girl's. Togetherness. They had found each other. Unified" (195). Wooding takes some
literary license and promises us with Deerborn's spoken thoughts that Cal will not start
any more fires. In the end, Cal gets to both rebel and transcend, unpunished, with the
approval of the author (and, ostensibly, the audience). Thus, Kerosene proves that even
when a book fails on a certain literary or aesthetic level, there can still be something to
gain from exploring other issues at play within the text.
As Kerosene proves, the PUSH books are not immune to problems. The PUSH
books are not some magical series that miraculously escaped the faults of current Y.A.
problems; they still focus on the adolescent individual's subjectivity within a social
construct and more often than not ultimately reinforce some aspect of authoritarian power
structures. But the focus on self-actualization-Dimple recognizing hybridity and
purpose in her Indian-American culture, Brendon's realization of his influence on others,
Callie's overcoming of her desire for self-mutilation-should not be read merely as some
sort of continuing project of Ayn Randian individualism or personal empowerment for
attacking collective thinking. Much of the benefit of these books is that they expose
young adults to thinking critically about social, political, or global issues-educating
adolescents about issues that they are often denied access to because of their age which
influences and warps their eventual understanding of the topics by the time they reach
adulthood. The adultist agenda is perfectly clear when it comes to denying adolescents a
complete understanding of these issues. Even Trites, who understands the problems that
adults impose on adolescents, still feels that "adults are responsible for protecting
children" so strongly that the statement to her is "like Truth rather than ideology" (81).
But therein lies a problem-most of the "protecting" the adults do is merely a debilitating
sheltering of adolescents. Who is there to protect adolescents from problematic adult
protection that works more to punish than to help? Those who recognize the potential of
adolescents and realize how imperative it is that they not be so guarded need to work in
conjunction with those creating what influences them (i.e. their entertainment). A lot of
good can come from teaching adolescents to respect their personal rights and
responsibilities and exposing them to their involvement in society, and even more good
can come from society finally refraining from sheltering adolescents from issues that
affect their lives and instead get them interested and actively involved in their own world.
Edward Said might be too complex to assign to a 10th grader, but raising the questions
asked by postcolonial theorists in simplified terms while teaching Born Confused could
effectively break down longstanding barriers. Eve Sedgwick might be out of a high
schooler's league, but that does not mean that queer theory cannot be used to read
Talking in the Dark or another (less successful) PUSH title, Eddie de Oliveira's Lucky.
The solution to overcoming these problems is letting adolescents in on the secret that
these power structures exist in real life as well as in their literature and then getting them
interested in correcting these problems.
GOING TO THE SOURCE AND GETTING A RESPONSE
Creating a desire in adolescents to explore these issues means getting them actively
involved in the Y.A. literature that complicates traditional ideologies, which in turn
makes investigating PUSH's current marketing strategies for the series all the more
interesting. PUSH continues to focus on young adults, but in a way that does not force
them to merely receive the information or marketing campaigns-PUSH actually gets
adolescents to interact in a way that, more than the books, marks this endeavor as unique.
The best example of this marketing is also PUSH's most visible: its website
www.thisispush.com. The homepage always has a complete list of the PUSH books, and
an announcement about the newest additions to the series. For Spring 2005, PUSH
released three new books, Matthue Roth's Never Mind the Goldbergs, Kevin Brooks's
Kissing the Rain, and Eireann Corrigan's Splintering, and curious visitors can click on
any of the titles on the left hand side to read an excerpt from the book.
The top menu gives many more options for interaction with young adults (or,
technically, anyone) who wants to learn more about PUSH. readPUSH offers the
synopsis of each title from the back of the book, along with links to read interviews with
the authors. Also, the website offers a way to contact any of the authors in PUSH,
encouraging the audience to critique, complain about, or praise any book as they see fit.
One of the most interesting aspects of the site is the section called reviewPUSH, which
allows young adults to go an extra step in critiquing the PUSH books-they can actually
write a review for it that might appear on the website. Granted, only positive reviews get
published (this is, after all, still a marketing tool) but young adults are given some sort of
empowerment in that they can be printed on a publishing company's website if they are
able to write a strong, insightful review. This also encourages readers to not passively
read, but to actively involve themselves in the books knowing that their feedback can be
A more general interactive part of the website is PUSHback, where the visitors can
generically comment on anything about the PUSH series-ask questions about the books
as a whole, offer suggestions for new ideas for books, and get specific information from
the site. This section also allows visitors to sign up for the newsletter which is sent out
every time a new book is published or an interesting development occurs with PUSH.
Levithan stated that, as of 2004, about 3,000 people were on the PUSH mailing list,
creating a strong fan base of visitors who are committed to PUSH as a publishing
institution. And while the website is the most visible and easily accessible marketing for
PUSH, Levithan stresses that word-of-mouth is their most effective and (obviously)
cheapest, and the dedicated fans are the ones that make it a success.
By far the most interactive and demanding of the website's menu options is
writePUSH, an opportunity for young adults to actually get published through PUSH.
The site has constant contests for adolescents to enter and get published onsite, with
topics ranging from "Conclusions" which has visitors finish a sentence and create a story
out of it, to "Dialogue" which showcases a few lines of clever verbal interaction between
characters, to "Character Sketches" which asks for a description for a protagonist that
could end up in his or her own story. PUSH also has a Poetry Contest that will publish
the top ten entries on the website, and has been doing this for some time because it is one
of the site's most popular features. But the most impressive contest asks for young adults
to send in manuscripts to potentially be published through the company, not just the
website. Currently on its fourth incarnation, the Annual PUSH Novel Contest asks young
adults between grades 7 and 12 to submit three chapters of their novel (between 15 and
50 pages) along with an outline of how the story develops and ends. The winning
manuscripts, while not guaranteed to get published, will get workshopped by the editors
and the finalists in the hopes that it will become a PUSH novel. And if any of the
winning works do get published, the author gets an advance and royalties. While many
submit and only a few are chosen, this is quite an impressive opportunity for the lucky
young adults. Thus, PUSH is seeking out the response that so few adult institutions do-
it wants young adults to participate in creating their own literature and in speaking to
themselves as an audience.
The PUSH contests, especially the one resulting in a published book, have been
quite successful for the institution. Part of the inspiration came from the PUSH
anthology, You Are Here, This Is Now: Poems, Stories, Essays, and Art from the Best
Young Writers and Artists in America, which had its first incarnation in 2002
immediately following the first round of books published by PUSH. Editors actively
sought out work from young adults in the annual national Scholastic Art & Writing
Awards from 1999 through 2001-again proving that PUSH's connection to Scholastic
can never be fully broken-and took the years' worth of submissions and created an
anthology with 24 poems, 20 fictional works, 16 essays, and 31 art pieces, representing
the best work that young adults have to offer. According to Levithan, "The idea was to
really show new talent as it is developing, and also to have writers the same age as our
target audience, so identification would be high We're really trying to appeal to teen
writers as well as teen readers. This is really where the two intersect the most-if
connection is our ultimate goal, then using peer writing is a great way to do it" (Email).
In fact, the anthology is where Billy Merrell (as William Merrell) first caught the
attention of Levithan, who worked with Merrell to turn his poem "Aubade to childhood"
into Talking in the Dark. Levithan hopes for more success stories like Merrell's to
continue coming from the Novel Contest and the anthologies. Currently, Levithan is
finishing the second anthology installment, which should come out sometime in 2005,
and fulfill his goal of publishing a new one every three years. From that anthology,
Levithan is working with a few of the most talented writers to see if anything develops
for a full-length book (Email).
Of course, not everything published in the anthology is of equal quality (the age
range somewhat prohibits that, with 7th graders competing against 12th graders for a spot)
but then again, neither are the books published by PUSH. The one commonality they
have is being connected to an institution that is working to create works that inspire
young adults, to generate a response from adolescents to the books that fall into the genre
specifically advertised towards them, and to, at least sometimes, challenge the current
trends in the Y.A. market. Granted, the bottom line for PUSH is economics, but the fact
that these books can be used to start empowering young adults with theoretical tools, to
combat the adultist agenda of Young Adult literature, and to evoke and foster a response
from adolescents makes the institution one worth studying and promoting.
Adolescent literature is as limitless as the list of books possible for an adolescent to
read. We need to move away from limiting this genre to the definition as provided by
educators or publishers and reevaluate the way we think about this subject. The
advancements made by current critics in the field of adolescent literature are leading the
way towards recognizing the need to expose adolescents to what is happening in what
they read and empowering them to think critically. Many of the PUSH books thus
become great examples of texts that critics can begin using for analysis in such a manner.
Once we stop believing in a controlled view of adolescent literature, we can begin to
reframe the way we think about adolescence itself.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Campbell, Patty. "The Sand in the Oyster: Rescuing Young Adult Literature." Horn
Book Magazine Vol. 73 Issue 3 (May/June 1997): 363-370.
Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of GI m th and Change in Young
Adult Literature. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
Coats, Karen. Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in
Children's Literature. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa, 2004.
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Knopf, 1974.
Corrigan, Eireann. You RemindMe of You. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2002.
de Oliveira, Eddie. Lucky. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2004.
Donelson, Kenneth L. and Allen Pace Nilsen. Literaturefor Today's Young Adults.
Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1980.
Engdahl, Sylvia. "Do Teenage Novels Fill a Need?" Young Adult Literature of the
Seventies: A Selection ofReadings. Ed. Jana Varlejs. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow
Press, Inc., 1978. 131-134.
Hall, G. Stanley. Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology,
Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. New York: D.
Appleton and Co., 1905.
Hidier, Tanuja Desai. Born Confused. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2002.
Hine, Thomas. The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager. New York: Avon Books,
James, Brian. Perfect World. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2004.
------. Pure Sunshine. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2002.
Levithan, David, Ed. You Are Here This Is Now: Poems, Stories, Essays, andArt from
the Best Young Writers and Artists in America. New York: PUSH (Scholastic,
-- Email interview. 10 Feb. 2005.
------. Memorandum. "Re: PUSH." Scholastic, Inc. 1 May 1998.
McCormick, Patricia. Cut. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2002.
Merrell, Billy. Talking in the Dark. New York: PUSH (Scholastic, Inc.), 2003.
Mertz, Maia Pank and David A. England. "The Legitimacy of American Adolescent
Fiction." School Library Journal Vol. 30 Issue 2 (October 1983): 119-124.
Neubauer, John. The Fin-de-Siecle Culture ofAdolescence. New Haven: Yale Univ.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace. "Rating, Ranking, Labeling Adolescent Literature." School Library
Journal Vol. 28 Issue 4 (December 1981): 24-27.
PUSH: You Are Here. PUSH/Scholastic, Inc. 25 March 2005.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or: The Impossibility of Children's Fiction.
Philadelphia: The Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. The Adolescent Idea: Myths of Youth and the Adult Imagination.
New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1981.
Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent
Literature. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 2000.
------. "The Harry Potter Novels as a Test Case for Adolescent Literature." Style Vol. 35
Issue 3 (Fall 2001): 472-486.
Varlej s, Jana, ed. Young Adult Literature of the Seventies: A Selection ofReadings.
Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1978.
Westwater, Martha. Giant Despair Meets Hopeful: Kristevan Readings in Adolescent
Fiction. Edmonton: Univ. of Alberta Press, 2000.
Witham, W. Tasker. The Adolescent in the American Novel: 1920-1960. New York:
Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1964.
Thomas Joseph Love was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which served as the
first of his many "homes." As a Navy brat, he would not find stability until he moved to
Florida at the age of twelve. He has been rather bookish his entire life, as attested to by
his high school ID card, which he continues to carry in his wallet for the sheer kitsch
value it contains. Because a friend he respected told him to, he decided to further pursue
his education at the University of Florida, and Gainesville soon became the place of his
longest consecutive residence. In an attempt to quiet some persistent academic advisors,
he majored in English and, interestingly enough, found his life calling. He graduated in
2003 with a B.A., only to have one blissful summer of freedom before quickly returning
to a scholarly life to get his M.A. Having decided to not make the same mistake twice,
Mr. Love will be putting future adventures in academia on hold to pursue whatever it is
normal people do. He hopes that he will find what he is looking for in Boston.