How I Got Into Young Adult Novels Through Chuck Palahniuk

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I used to think that Young Adult novels were lame, because I assumed that you weren’t allowed to cuss or discuss dark and gritty topics. Of course, that’s what happens when you assume things; you make an ass out of u and me. Now that I’ve actually read a ton of YA novels, I am hooked!

And I actually owe it all to Chuck Palahniuk!

Although he writes mature adult novels–full of excessive vulgarity, disgusting details, and overtones darker than the night itself–I got into YA thanks to him. Most of his novels do feature adult characters getting into adult situations, most of which involve some awesome plot twists (Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, Snuff), but there’s one book of his that features a fat 12-year-old dead girl in Hell.

Damned follows the story of Madison “Maddie” Spencer, the daughter of two Hollywood big shots who are constantly too stoned out of their minds to give her any genuine attention or affection. She apparently dies of a mairjuana overdose, and is sent to Hell where she meets a group of other damned souls who become her posse of misfists.

The book is often described as The Breakfast Club meets Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in Hell because each chapter begins with “Are You There, Satan? It’s Me, Madison,” and she shares the coming of age struggle Margaret faces in Judy Blume’s book.

Now, I’ve watched The Breakfast Club several times in my life and have always connected with the universal themes of the teenage struggle, but never once have I ever read a Judy Blume book. Why would I anyway? Aren’t her books written for little girls?

Apparently not!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Damned, but the sequel Doomed, felt a little overwritten compared to its predecessor. The narrative voice felt too intellectual and masculine to be that of a 12-year-old girl’s, but I read it anyway because I highly enjoyed the overall adventure of Maddie’s goal to confront Satan and find out why she had to die early and be damned to eternal torture.

(Chuck Palahniuk’s idea of eternal torture includes walking on hills of toenail clippings, passing by rivers of pimple puss and rejected human fluids, and my personal favourite; working at a telemarketing office to troll the people still alive on Earth)

So I got curious about Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret just so I can see how much of it actually inspired, or at least reflected the content in Damned. Aside from the chapter openings and having a 12-year-old protagonist, there was obviously a stark contrast that astounded me.

Gone were the supernatural elements, gross descriptions, vulgarity, drugs, and violence etc.

What I got instead was a story about a middle grader feeling left out because she’s the only girl in her class who hasn’t gotten her period yet. That made for a great a surface theme–since I’ve never considered what the female puberty experience was like, though it was a welcomed surprise–but what really captivated me about the book was Margaret’s struggle with her religious beliefs.

It surprised me immensely when I started noticing the bigger picture. Margaret was raised without religious affiliation; her father is Jewish and her mother is Christian–but pushed  neither religion on her–and so Margaret’s internal struggle, on top of her desire to get her first period, was trying to find religious singularity.

[spoiler]There was this epic scene where her grandmother and her parents argue about what religion she should conform to, but she gets so frustrated and cries out about how no one even is stopping to consider what she wants to believe in.[/spoiler]

Although I prefer to read more mature YA novels with older characters who do cuss and discuss dark topics, Judy Blume single handedly diminished my assumptions about YA. Now I have absolute respect for it because it’s now that I understand the appeal to it.

Being a teenager is an intense time in anyone’s life because it’s when we begin to truly begin to question our identities as individuals separate from culture. Our hormones and emotions are the most sensitive and although it’s such a small amount of time in our overall lives, they are the most intense, bringing with it the growing pains that shape us. The teenage experience is universal for anyone who has survived it.

Stay tuned for How I Conceived the Idea of It Starts at Home…

Music as a Milestone Marker

Music-is-the-fire-in-my-heart-music-35607170-471-458For the first decade of my life, I actively avoided music, but now I can’t go a day without listening to it. In the past month, I have spent $100 getting new albums from Rock bands I recently discovered. I. Can’t. Stop.

When I was growing up, though, everybody listened to Rap and R&B. I kept hearing the same songs everywhere and I couldn’t stand the lack of variety beyond the top hits. I have nothing against these genres– in fact, I actually have phases where I’ll listen to nothing but Rap and R&B–but it just wasn’t for me at the time.

The only music I ever enjoyed came from TV shows, movies, or video games. Otherwise, I never sat down and listened to anything for its own sake. But then came one of my favourite video games from my childhood, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kongquest. There was a level called Bramble Blast where most of it consisted of shooting Diddy and Dixie Kong through a bunch of barrells and the background music for the level was incredibly relaxing! Perhaps to contrast the chaotic nature of the barrells.

I was so enamored by this well crafted composition that I paused the game and listened to the song for about an hour. To this day, listening to Stickerbrush Symphony still captivates me with its simple and catchy melodies. From that point on, I had much more appreciation for the rest of the game’s music score, which I believe is still one of the best OST’s in gaming history.

David Wise, thank you for pushing the SNES’s 16-bit instrumentation capabilities!

When I beat the game and stopped playing it, I was left without music once again. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a music video featuring an animation with the art style of Todd McFarlane, the artist and creator of my then favourite comic book character Spawn. That music video, my friends, was for Korn’s hit single Freak on a Leash.

That was when I realized Rock music was my natural element. I just love how the combination of guitars, bass, and drums can produce so many different styles of music alone. Whether the guitarists use clean channels and/or distorted tones–or in Korn’s case, a crap ton of FX pedals–I’m always up for a rockin’ riff that gets me headbanging. Especially if the band’s got a great vocalist who can belt out the power vox! Can I get a “hell yeah”?

I’ve since listened to other genres of music throughout my lifetime from Dubstep to Lounge, Trip-Hop, Pop and much much more, but the music I always find myself listening to is some sort of Rock. This could range from Metal, Mathrock, or even Pop Punk–WHATEVER! I’m not here to impress you with the long list of bands and genres I’ve listened to.

The point is; I’ve listened to a kaleidscope’s variety of stuff lo’ these past two decades or so.

Each and every band, and genre, is associated with a certain point in my life, and I am instantly reminded of those eras of my life whenever I go back in my collection and listen to something I haven’t listened to in a while.

Korn reminds me of my early teen years battling with anger and depression, the DnB, Trip-Hop, Lounge, and Ambient music reminds me of when I learned to relax a little more in my early 20’s. Fast forward to today, the vast collection of new Rock albums I bought recently will remind me of this particular time in my life where I’ve finally become comfortable with myself having delved deeply into self-knowledge and greatly improving my life circumstances.

I see music as a way of marking milestones in your life. When you spend enough time listening to a certain artist during a high or low point in your life, you’re training your brain to associate those tunes with that specific place in time.

After all, the media we consume is a reflection of who we are, it’s a piece of us. It’s how we identify ourselves in the world. By empathizing with the expression of art, we let it speak for us when we don’t want to explain ourselves, or we let it embellish our inner most thoughts and desires. Why do you think so many songs are about finding love?

Our particular tastes and preferences in music, art, and literature all have something to say about us. This is why we enjoy sharing these things with those we love. Understanding what others are entertained by is a quick way to understanding how they think and feel about themselves and the world.  All you gotta do is ask why it moves them so much, and they’ll tell you everything you need to know about them.

Do you have any favourite artists you’ve listened to consistently throughout your life? Or on and off for any particular reasons?

Do you continuously seek to expand your music library? Do you have any favourite artists that invoke particular memories whenever you relisten to them after taking a long break?

For anything else music related and how you relate to it, let me know what you think in the comments below!