Author Guest Post: Lois Metzger, A Trick of the Light

I recently read A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger (review coming soon) and enjoyed both the story and the point of view from which it’s written.  Lois Metzger has written an important book, so I’m happy to feature her guest post today on the blog.

A Trick of the Light

Anorexia is a Liar
By Lois Metzger
Author of A Trick of the Light

My new book, a young-adult novel about a 15-year-old boy who falls victim to an eating disorder (“A Trick of the Light,” Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins) took me almost ten years to write. It’s not just that I’m a slow writer (though that’s part of it). It’s because I was researching anorexia, which took me down so many twisty paths I needed a long time to understand it.

Basically, as I can now see, there’s what anorexia pretends to be, and what it actually is. Anorexia convinces you that your world will be a better place if you are thin or fit. Anorexia promises you:

You’ll look great and feel great!

But, and this is the crux of the disease, anorexia is a liar.

Many young people and adolescents (though there have been children as young as seven with the disease) fall into anorexia because they are unhappy with their appearance. (Or they’re unhappy with something else, but the focus becomes fixed on the body.) They may begin by restricting certain foods to get rid of a few extra pounds, or exercising to get rid of a flabby stomach.

At first, there may be a few compliments: “You lost weight! You look terrific!” or, as in the case of Mike Welles, the main character in my book, who hasn’t had much experience with girls, a girl says to him, admiringly: “You been working out? It shows.”

This is all the encouragement anorexia needs. It pushes you to keep going, eat less, work out more. If goals are met, new goals must appear and be met (with no end in sight). Generally, in the case of girls and women, they want to see the numbers on a scale go down. For boys and men, it’s more about getting rock-hard abs or a six-pack. Mike, in my book, begins doing sit-ups and push-ups and running laps around a local park. It doesn’t matter if he can barely breathe or gets cramps that feel like a knife in his chest. He keeps going.

So it’s all about looking good or feeling fit, but after a while, these girls, women, men and boys don’t look so good anymore.

They may lose hair or eyelashes. Cuts and bruises don’t heal. They may have a soft coat of fuzz on their faces, backs and chests (because of a lack of food, the body can no longer produce heat, and this hair is the body’s attempt to get warm). Due to a lack of calcium, they may develop osteoporosis; they can’t stand up straight and their bones can break from a simple fall. Too little potassium may result in weakened heart muscles, which can lead to a heart attack.

And the intent — to look great — has actually been reversed. They look wasted, emaciated, skeletal.

In the first stages, they feel good. The compliments, the added energy. Even starvation can give you a bit of a high, and exercise can release endorphins. Mike’s senses are heightened; things look brighter and more vivid. He feels like he’s waking up to the world: “He sees his boring old neighborhood in a whole new way. The slanting light makes everything pop as if it exists in more than three dimensions, a kind of super diorama — front lawn, sidewalk, street, bus, trees, sky, universe, beyond-the-universe.”

But after this initial euphoria, they don’t feel so good.

Besides the dizziness and weakness that come with starvation, they can’t sleep because their bodies are actually de-volving to a kind of caveman existence. As a therapist tells Mike in the book, “A Cro-Magnon man didn’t sleep much — he was always thinking about getting the next meal. His senses had to be at full alert, so he could smell food that was ripe, see a small animal trying to hide in the bushes.”

Body temperature plummets. Getting heat to the heart, lungs and kidneys takes priority over the hands and feet.

So anorexics are cold all the time, and hungry all the time, and can’t sleep (even while protesting they are not freezing, not starving, not exhausted). Here, again, the intent — to feel great — has been lost.

But instead of fighting the disease, they still believe the lie. They are committed to it, or, more accurately, addicted. They deny the reality within them.

My book started out as the story of a boy struggling with an eating disorder. I didn’t really know what that meant, and it took me years to figure out that it’s the story of the struggle to see the lie for what it is.

© 2013 Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light

Author Bio
Lois Metzger,
 author of A Trick of the Light, was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of three previous novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and Harper’s Bazaar. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and son.

For more information please visit http://www.loismetzger.com, and follow the author on Facebook

Thoughts on Summer Reading Lists

Paul Hankins posted a link on Facebook to an article called “How to Choose Summer Reading for Students” published in today’s New York Times with the headline SOME BOOKS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.  Paul’s ideas and the article itself made me think about the summer reading assignment I handed out for this summer.

I’m teaching Honors Sophomore Seminar for the first time this fall and before me four other teachers have taught the class and made it their own.  From what I’ve gathered, past summer reading assignments have included Of Mice and Men and a reading packet and/or a test upon return, The Count of Monte Cristo and a reading packet and/or a test upon return, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a reading packet and/or a test upon return.  I’m pretty sure essays were written at the beginning of the year too.  I’m not bashing or judging those assignments because I know they were assigned with good intentions, even if that’s not my style.  I understand the importance of the classics, but I decided to go about my summer homework assignment a little differently.  I have a blog page devoted to my summer assignment just in case my students lose their homework folder, but the short version of the assignment is that I asked them to read three books this summer.  They’ve been asked to read three novels from the Michael L. Printz list: one award winner and two honor books or two award winners and one honor book.

Right now I have 52 kids signed up (two sections of the class).  I’ve had about half of those students already this past school year, so many of them are acquainted with my teaching style and my love of reading.  I can hope that all 52 of my students will be reading to their heart’s content this summer, but I know many of them won’t be.  And if I were to hand them something like The Red Badge of Courage?  Yeah, some would read and love that book.  Many would look it up on Sparknotes to pretend they read it.  I don’t think any of the Printz books are on Sparknotes, but that’s not why I chose those novels.  I chose that list because it’s a good starting point when requiring YA for homework (in my opinion).  It’s a list of books qualified as “literary excellence” and having read many of them, I tend to agree.  I also chose that list of reading because the novels suit a variety of reading interests and levels; they’re also current.  I considered giving them a list of great books to read including non-fiction, graphic novels, fiction, etc, but even that list is objective.  I wanted to have a specific focus to their assignment while reading, hopefully, books they’ll enjoy since they’re choosing them from that list.  I didn’t design this summer homework assignment to instill a sense of fear in my students about how tough this class is going to be or to give them something to be held accountable for.  The purpose for their reading is to think critically about what they’re expected to read as college bound students.  The majority of our high school English curriculum involves reading classics.  With this in mind, I presented them with the challenge to read these Printz novels and think about the novels included on the college bound reading list.  Did I ask them to write an essay this summer? Yes.  And I know that some will agree with me for having them write an essay and others will disagree.  I’m having them write an essay to support the books they read being added to the college bound reading list or to oppose the books they read being added to the college bound reading list.  My reasons behind having them write the essay (which is due the second day of school) this summer is that we’ll be able to begin the year focusing on revision and learning to view writing as a process that, really, never ends.

Will their summer reading be relevant throughout the school year?  Yes.  I plan on creating an independent unit where the students will be required to read a book from the college bound reading list and reflecting back on their summer essays.  Plus, I know we’ll be reading independently throughout the entire year.  SSR isn’t just for freshmen (most of the 10th-12th grade classrooms don’t offer SSR).  My sophomores next year will be reading novels of their choice during SSR all year.

So writing this whole long post began because of that article I referenced.  Do I agree with it?  In short, no.  I don’t want to assign classics over the summer because like I already said, they’ll most likely go to Sparknotes and because I’d rather read the classics with my students.  I want the chance to discuss the classics openly with my students.  I understand the author’s idea that students can read those texts without worrying about questions and pressure from the teacher, but I also understand my role as the teacher and helping my students become better learners and readers.  I don’t agree with her claim that our higher readers will only increase their vocabulary by reading the classics.  I’ve read the classics all through high school and college and I’m still increasing my vocabulary when I’m reading YA.  If she’s worried about her students needing to build a better understanding of the world, I’d recommend she read Sold and Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick.  There’s also Ruta Sepetys’ beautiful debut novel Between Shades of Grey giving readers insight to a piece of world history barely covered in history classes or known about at all.  I could go on and on, but considering the length of this post I won’t.

Summer reading is apparently more of a touchy subject than I first thought.  Next June I’ll reflect on the year and maybe I’ll change my summer reading assignment.  Right now, however, I’m still happy with what I assigned because I know my administrators and what they expect and more importantly, I know my students.  I know many of my 52 students will need a starting place in the world of YA because I know many of them aren’t as acquainted with it as I’d like them to be.  I guess we’ll see how it went over in a couple months.

SPEAKing Loudly

I’m positively outraged about this latest censorship attempt against Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Dr. Wesley Scroggins of Republic, MO wrote an article explaining concerns he has about books included in the Republic Schools’ curriculum.  One such book is Speak.  Scroggins believes that parents need to be aware and request that Speak is removed from the curriculum because

“In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.”

What?!  Mr. Scroggins, did you even read this book?  How can you possibly write the words “soft pornography” only lines before mentioning that the main character is raped?  I’m absolutely disgusted by this misrepresentation of such an important novel.  Melinda did not want to have sex.  Melinda did not enjoy what happened to her.  Melinda was RAPED. 

I’ve mentioned before in other posts that I first read Speak in my college Young Adult Literature class.  Speak is the reason I love young adult literature.  During my first year of teaching I decided to read it out loud to my classes; my students LOVED it.  That was three years ago.  One of my students that year, a freshmen and now a senior, has a younger sister who is in my freshmen English class right now.  Guess what she’s reading!  My student from three years ago remembered me reading it out loud, enjoyed it and told her sister to read it.  Not only that, but we’ve included Speak in our curriculum.  Students that NEVER read have become readers thanks to this book.  Students identify with it, whether they’ve been a victim or they feel like the outcast at school. 

Laurie Halse Anderson should only be hearing praises for her novel, not the ignorant ramblings of a man who couldn’t possibly have read Speak.  Please don’t allow Mr. Scroggins’ article to negatively influence any more people in Republic, MO.  Go to Laurie Halse Anderson’s post about this so you can learn how to spread POSITIVE experiences and praises for Speak.  If you’re on Twitter you can post your support by including #SpeakLoudly to your tweet.

More views on Humble

I’ve been reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s LiveJournal every day this month because she’s holding a writing challenge for the month of August.  In today’s post she brought up the Humble TLF (Teen Lit Fest) censorship issue.  She included links to the blogs of the authors that are no longer attending TLF as way to protest censorship so we can read their reasons why.  Laurie then went on to explain why she thinks authors should attend TLF.  I want you to read her post so you have the opportunity to see this stand against censorship from a couple different perspectives.  We will without a doubt be discussing this in Y.A. Lit this school year!

Let me know what you think after you read her post.

Humble, we have a problem…

Censorship has shown its ugly face again.  Ellen Hopkins was invited to the Teen Lit Festival in Humble, Texas (a suburb of Houston).  At the festival teens and Y.A. authors are invited as a way to interact; teens can meet their favorite authors and authors can make their work known.  Apparently a few parents found out that Hopkins was going to be there, and since they don’t care for the content of her books, they complained to one of the Humble ISD librarians.  This librarian went to the superintendent with the complaints, and ultimately Hopkins was uninvited!

 I first heard about this through Ellen Hopkin’s FB post and it made my blood pressure rise.  If a parent doesn’t like an author and/or her book that’s okay.  It’s a parent’s right to tell her child not to read something.  However, it is not right for a parent to ruin a conference for hundreds of teens.  Hopkin’s books tell the truth; it may be ugly, but everyone knows the real world isn’t always a pleasant place. 

This news has made its way to other authors attending the conference.  One such author is Pete Hautman (Invisible, Godless).  I have a link to his blog entry expressing his opinion on this matter.  I strongly recommend reading it.  He along with a few other authors that were invited to TLF are no longer attending the conference in response to this.

P.S. Here is a link to Ellen  Hopkin’s thoughts on Pete Hautman’s blog post

P.P.S. Ellen Hopkins posted this article that was written in response to everything going on with Teen Lit Fest.  It’s actually pretty humerous :)

Pumped! Pumped!! Pumped!!!

Read this article if you care even a little bit about The Hunger Games becoming a movie :) 
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/movies/2010/07/hunger-games-suzanne-collins-billy-ray-chloe-moretz.html

Boosts in Teen Reading

In the past few years that I’ve been teaching at Clio, I have noticed more and more students reading.  Not only are they reading, but they’re carrying these non-required books from class to class.  Now granted, there are always teens reading; I was one of them.  But I didn’t go to the book store looking for my next book.  I don’t even think I read any young adult books when I was in high school.  Whatever I read was usually recommended by my parents. 

So what’s changed over the past few years?  Is it the quality of the writing?  Is it all the aftermath of the Harry Potter phenomenon?  I found an article that was written a few years ago addressing these questions.  I’d love it if you read it and followed up with your opinions/thoughts.  I’m especially interested to know if any of you purposely seek out more complex, deep novels.

http://www.seattlepi.com/books/306531_teenlit08.html

Drug use in the suburbs

I was watching World News with Diane Sawyer this evening and she included a story about heroin use in the suburbs.  It’s a bigger problem in suburbs than most people think.  I have the link to the article and video posted below. 

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/heroin-suburbs-rise/story?id=10230269

One of the reasons I’m posting this is because I know many of you are reading books about drugs for your trimester project.  Ellen Hopkins has only written about heroin use in Tricks, and she thankfully writes an accurate description of how scary the drug is.  

I really want all of you to watch the video and read the article.  It’s important for you to be aware of what is happening around you.

Jaycee Dugard story

I just finished watching the news and found out that 20/20 is going to air videos made by Jaycee Dugard and her family about how she is doing after being held captive for 18 years.  She was kidnapped by a sex offender, and this made me think of Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl.  If you’ve read the book or want to read the book, you should watch 20/20 tonight at 9:00pm.  The stories are not the same, but it’s nice to have supplemental material with books.

Diversity in YA

I’m up too early this morning, so I’m sitting at my computer with a Diet Coke.  (I promise I’m trying to cut down…)  Anyway, I was reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog because she posted an interesting link discussing diversity in YA.  It raises some important questions.  I apologize about the title of the blog, but it needs to be read.  http://www.bookslut.com/features/2010_02_015679.php

Does this post cause you to think about your own reading habits/choices?  Please comment.

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