My Literary Achilles’ Heel

During our lunch break at the ALAN conference this past November, my friends and I were discussing which breakout session to attend.  There was quite a bit of debate, because much of our decision was based on which authors we wanted to listen to.  I was originally planning on attending the session about Chicago as a setting in YA, but I didn’t for two reasons.  One reason was that our lunch took FOREVER (that poor restaurant was packed and understaffed), but the other reason was because of something Donalyn Miller said.  She of course wanted to listen to Chris Crutcher and Matt de la Peña (and who wouldn’t?!), but her primary reason for attending was because sports fiction is her Achilles’ heel.  This  really made me think because I know which genres are my least favorite, but I never thought about putting a name to it (Thank you, Donalyn!).

I’m bringing this post up because it’s been on my mind, but now even more so after winning my Teacher of the Year award.  I received a $500 check to use in my classroom, and I’m thinking about spending it on books–real predictable, right? 😉  On Thursday I told my students about it and asked them for their input on how I should spend the money.  We all agreed that a spinning book rack would be great because we could display books according to genre.  That’s easy enough, and something I’ve wanted to purchase for a while, but then I started thinking about my literary Achilles’ heel again.  I love contemporary fiction and plenty of the paranormal fiction that’s been released, although I’ll admit I’m getting worn out trying to keep up with so many series, but that’s another post altogether.  I know I could be better about reading more sports fiction, but I think I’m doing alright, especially now that one of my YA Lit students keeps reading them before me and recommending them.  Plus I love Chris Crutcher’s novels and couldn’t get enough of Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast, just as a couple examples.  I’ve been beefing up my knowledge of graphic novels, and in the process I’ve found that I really enjoy them.  I love novels in verse, so that part of my library is ever expanding, even though I know that’s not a genre of YA.  My greatest Achilles’ heel is high fantasy and science fiction.

I grew up loving fantasy.  I remember reading every unicorn book I could find when I was in elementary and middle school.  The Bunnicula books, even though those aren’t exactly fantasy, were some of my favorites.  I tried reading The Hobbit in 6th grade, and even though I didn’t finish it, I remember really enjoying it.  I could picture the setting and the characters easily.  In high school my dad handed me a copy of The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart.  I couldn’t get enough of that book!  I was over the moon in 10th grade when we started our King Arthur unit.  I wrote my essay on the Lady of the Lake and actually enjoyed doing the research (I didn’t enjoy the research involved for my Oliver Wendell Holmes essay in 11th grade–I had no choice in my author assignment).  So why do I struggle now to enjoy high fantasy novels?  I read Graceling by Kristin Cashore and adored it.  I tried reading the companion, Fire, but even though I’ve tried reading it twice now, I can’t stick with it.  I am looking forward to the release of Bitterblue.  I tried the first in The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima, but that was really a struggle.  I have no desire to finish the series, but I do have all the books in my class library.  I’ve heard great things about the Seven Realms series, so I’m thinking about trying that.  My students requested that I buy the rest of the Eragon series, which I did yesterday, but even those I don’t really care for.  I might not like Eragon because I saw the movie first, but I still don’t know if I want to read them.

 Science fiction has never been a genre that I enjoy reading.  I read Insignia by S.J. Kincaid (releases in July 2012–review coming closer to the release date) and loved it.  It’s about gaming and virtual reality, so I’d qualify it as science fiction.  I read Tempest by Julie Cross, and even though there are some plot points that I didn’t like, I enjoyed reading the novel overall.  The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness could be seen as dystopian, but I also look at it as science fiction because it takes place on a different planet, much like Beth Revis’s Across the Universe and A Million Suns.  I’m not sure what I’m missing in this genre.  I’ve obviously enjoyed a few novels that fit within in, so why don’t I find myself reading more novels in this genre?

I’m writing about all of this because I feel like I’m letting my students down, in particular the students who do enjoy reading these genres.  I have a few titles that I can discuss with them and recommend, but I don’t have enough to feel like I’m doing a good enough job.  Does anyone else feel like this?  What’s your literary Achilles’ heel?  And if you love these genres, please leave me some recommendations!  I have that money to spend, so I want to buy some worthy YA titles in each genre to provide for my students.  And since I don’t have that much going on this weekend (FINALLY!), I think I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and try reading one or two.  So please, if you have any recommendations, or if you feel the same way I do about these genres or others, leave me a comment 🙂


  1. Like you I find that I don’t really enjoy fantasy. Science fiction I can read if it’s not too well science fictiony (very technical term there). I haven’t read a whole lot of sports fiction but did purchase Stupid Fast after reading your review (haven’t read it yet). Unlike you though I don’t have a classroom full of students that I am trying to convince to read. I homeschool my three children, my two oldest both girls and I all read the same books. However, once my son starts reading I might have to step outside of my comfort zone and try reading more of what I consider “boy” books:) I want to share the love of reading with him as well and I don’t expect that he will enjoy YA contemporary or Paranormal Romance! So what I am seeing now that I have written this out is that I am really not much help to you here:) I will be interested in seeing what others have to recommend. I’ll have to check out those Bunnicula books for my son! Have a great weekend

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      You might be surprised, Shari, by how much your son may enjoy paranormal romance. Plenty of my boys in class love series like the Hush, Hush books, The Mortal Instruments, and many more. There’s lots of contemporary fiction with boy appeal, too 🙂 I think I’m the same way when it comes to science fiction; I think I like the books that aren’t too science fictiony (I’m okay with your term!).

  2. I completely understand! In fact, last week a student brought up a book, asking me if I like fantasty/sci fi and I told him I would keep the title in mind and add it to my to-read list, but that I had a whole lot of other books waiting in line. This killed me, but I’m just not into fantasy, and never have been (I don’t even watch fantasy/action movies!). 🙂

    I recently wrote a similar post about diversifying my personal library on my blog. When I want to diversify I mostly turn to non-YA, but I love YA because I like being able to know why my students are reading or to be able to make a recommendation when they need something to read.

  3. Great post, Sarah. My “Literary Achilles’ Heel” is fantasy. I don’t like it. Thanks for encouraging me to try to read more.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      The majority of my students pick contemporary realistic fiction, so that’s what I stick to the most. I end up forgetting about the others and need to remind myself to pick up something other than contemps so I can balance what I’m adding to my library. There’s so much to read, it gets really tough!

  4. There are SO many choices out there, it does get tough. But like you sports fiction is definitely my weak area. I don’t read science fiction either (unless old Star Trek/Star Wars books count), and I would love to be able to read more fantasy though I’m not sure what would draw me in in the market. I do diversify between YA, adult, horror, contemporary, romance, and westerns. Oh, and historical and the classics. It’s very hard to read it all, but I would hate to delve into a genre I didn’t like. I LOVE Stephen King’s books but his short-story, Billy Blockade, was hard to endure for me because it was sports-based. Good luck on finding good buys for your rack!! You sound like a very caring teacher and your students are lucky to have you!!

  5. For fantasy I think Tamora Pierce is a must read. Her Alanna series is still a favorite of mine! Robin McKinley’s books are among my favorites as well. I cannot count the number of times I’ve read The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword. I also really like Sherwood Smith but I have to warn you… some of her covers are REALLY unappealing! Crown Duel is my favorite of her’s. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon is another great fantasy, Frewin Jones Warrior Princess is pretty good too. Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl series is great. I know my middle schoolers like it. Not sure about HS though. Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is amazing. Love the book and the movie for that one! I’m not so helpful when it comes to sci-fi. That is one I struggle with as well. I like book like Unwind but don’t know if that really fits the sci-fi category! Good luck and way to go you!

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I forgot about Stardust–I loved that one (and the movie) as well. Unwind is usually considered dystopian, but considering the medical and science advances, I think it would work at sci-fi. It’s actually one of my favorite books. I think I might try some Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley because I’ve only heard great things about their books. Thank you for the recommendations, Heidi!

  6. Barb Rheinhardt says:

    Nicely said, Sarah. We all have our achilles heel when it comes to genres….mine would be romance novels….I do think you’re on the right track about the high fantasy and science fiction (which I love) and even manga! 🙂 I recommend titles by Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game, Pastwatch and Pathfinder are wonderful and make your brain do a double take and then another! Fun) I also recommend titles by Robert Jordan for students who want more challenging reading….His Wheel of Time series is excellent.

  7. Did you read Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta? I’m not a big fantasy reader (we’re in that camp together), but this one worked really well for me. I fell into the world near immediately, and it kept me there.

    Science fiction: Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan is one you’d probably like (can’t remember if you’ve read it or not).

    Took me forever to respond to this one, but I’ve been thinking about it since you posted it.

    • Mrs. Andersen says:

      I can’t believe you’ve been thinking about this one for so long! 🙂

      I tried Glow, and was really liking it until about half-way through. It suddenly lost steam and fell apart for me. I haven’t tried Finnikin of the Rock, but I’ve only been reading great things about Melina Marchetta. I tried Jellicoe Road, but stopped after a few pages. I’ve been told to pick it up and give it more of a chance because she’s so great. I’ll try Finnikin of the Rock sooner, though, because I have so many fantasy lovers devouring the titles I have. I’m not short on contemporary, so Jellicoe Road can wait a bit!


  1. […] week I posted about my literary Achilles’ heel and how I want to read more fantasy and sci-fi.  I decided to start my challenge with The Demon […]

  2. Reading Gaps says:

    […] and Donalyn Miller at The Nerdy Book Club posted about reading gaps.  I’ve posted about my literary Achilles heel this year, which is similar to both of these posts.  Since posting about my own reading gaps, […]

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