Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is Passion Old-Fashioned?

Over on the PUBYAC listserv, Jan Hanson of the Longview Public Library in Washington is looking for it: "A HS teacher called and is asking for ideas of books that illustrate a teen with passion, as in "a passion for dancing" or a "passion for football."

I love this query; it's requests like these that make us think about what books for kids do and don't do. Off the top of my head I think of that Joan Bauer book about a girl with a passion for shoe-selling, Hope Was Here Rules of the Road, and several of Chris Crutcher's early books feature teens with a passion for various sports. Oh, and that extremely high-minded but badly dated Madeleine L'Engle book about a fledgling actress, The Joys of Love. What else? Generalizing wildly, too often it seems that intense interest in something that isn't another person is viewed in YA books as dysfunctional or simply as a way to i. d. a character; i.e. "Jane loves music," but do we ever see her practice?

P.S. I put Harriet the Spy in the tags because she's the most passionate person I know in children's books, plus I've just started listening to Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost, an adult mystery that begins, anyway, with a very Harriet-like third-grader.

22 comments:

Kelly said...

I LOVED "What Was Lost." Loved it. The transition to the adult characters, especially in audio, may seem like a bit of a letdown, but hold on: they're ultimately more rewarding.

grrlpup said...

Bruce Brooks' "Midnight Hour Encores." Passion for music, with practicing.

Patricia Leitch, "All the Pretty Little Horses," also published as "Fields of Praise." Passion for horses, again with practicing!

GraceAnne LadyHawk said...

Garret Freymann-Weyr's The Kings Are Already Here are deeply involved in dance and in cheese, with passion and energy. It defines them, and they define themselves against those passions. It's a great read about teens who are entirely untypical and utterly compelling as people.

Anne said...

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman is about a teen girl who is quite the Austen fan.

Anonymous said...

In the Plain Janes books, both the main Jane and her fellows are quite passionate about art as a social statement -- "making the world beautiful," as they put it.

Claire

Rachael said...

In _someday this pain will be useful to you_, the protagonist is passionate about old houses - his grandmother's house in particular.

It's hard to think of well-written books with well-rounded characters who are also passionate. A lot of current YA lit seems to veer either towards irony, or towards passions as lazy character development (the brainy one, the artistic one, etc.).

Rachael said...

Of course, there are Hilary McKay's wonderful Cassons and their various passions for art, guinea pigs, etc.

Johanna said...

Hard Love has numerous teens passionate about zines.

ladydisdain said...

The Bauer book is actually Rules of the Road.

A Horse of Her Own by Annie Wedekind is another passionate horsey tale.

Jill Murray said...

I think about this all the time because I tend to write about kids who *do* things. The protagonist of my first novel was passionate about breakdance. She practiced... not as much as she did in the first draft.

In Catherine Jinx' Evil Genius the protagonist has a passion for systems. The Book Thief, books, literacy, stories, family. In Dairy Queen and the Off Season, we have football. Gordon Korman's protagonists sometimes have passions for art, music, money making schemes... In Nick Hornby's Slam, we get skateboarding and Tony Hawk.

I would note that writing about passionate characters can be tricky in that Editors may take a pass on a book if they judge that the subject the protagonist is passionate is not popular enough with real kids.

Becky said...

A La Carte by Tanita Davis is about a teen girl that's passionate about cooking.

Anonymous said...

The Mozart Season
On Pointe
Celine
In Lane Three, Alex Archer
On the Devil's Court
more to come
L

AMY S. said...

I really like the Gilda Joyce series and the title character is certainly a "passionate" young woman.

EM said...

Ditto on the Casson books and Dairy Queen/Off Season. E. Lockhart's DRAMARAMA captures high school theatre passion quite nicely, I think.

mb said...

How strange. If anything could be said to define the teenage experience (not just mine, but everyone I knew at that age), it would be passion. For books, music, science, a person, whatever it was, that's what we all had in common. Can authors really be missing out on that?

JLH said...

Will Weaver's "Striking Out" is a very fine novel about a teenage boy who's passionate about baseball but has family conflicts that interfere. It was Weaver's first YA novel, and I can only assume his subsequent ones are as fine or finer, though I haven't read them.

rockinlibrarian said...

I agree completely with mb. Recently I was doing word associations with either the word passion or several words relating to high school, in some order, but at any rate they kept coming back to each other. Everything you feel as a teenager is JUST SO INTENSE, how can you NOT be passionate about your favorite things?

Julia said...

Peter Abrahams's "Echo Falls" mysteries, Miyuki Miyabe's Brave Story, and Wendelin Van Draanen's Flipped all feature intense, focused, passionate young protagonists.

Also (and this one is hard to find, but it's awesome), Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Greensleeves. McGraw's heroine is plenty passionate... but she's not quite sure what she wants to be passionate about, which I think is true of a lot of young people.

Daphne said...

Jennifer Donnelly's "A Gathering Light"/"A Northern Light": Mattie and her best friend Weaver are passionate about words.

Annie said...

Great question!

My reader kids (12 y.o. girl and 10 y.o. boy) write a book recommendation blog (www.kidsbookshelf.wordpress.com)
and I peeked at it to see whether they mention passion. My daughter likes the Bauer books and also Sharon Creech's Chasing Redbird especially for the characters' passion for their work & interests.

Laura said...

The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan was a favorite of mine, as I played viola, too, albeit not as well as Minna.

Thursday's Children by Rumer Godden deals with kids who are passionate about dance (and music, too, as I recall).

And how can one not mention the Shoes books by Noel Streatfield?

web said...

This is one of my very favorite children's book themes and a bibliography I did for "Five Owls" is still available online, though of course it's quite old now: http://www.fiveowls.com/03_96_bib.html.