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…

eBook Review: Dear Self by Erik Lugnet

dear self“Life can be difficult sometimes. It is not made easier by the sometimes overwhelming inner voices that criticize us into oblivion.”

So how can one climb out of this oblivion and learn to tame the inner dialogue that plagues many of us, thus preventing us from living happy, functional lives?

There are many answers to this question that require years of time, money, and energy invested into self work through journaling, therapy, and introspection. If that sounds like a daunting task, you no longer have to fear if the investment will be worth it or not.

With Erik Lugnet’s 17 page introduction to introspection, Dear Self gives you a quick and concise glimpse into the world of self-therapy and journaling. If you’re thinking of going to therapy, but are unsure if it may be right for you, this book is a great guide to trying out the process on your own to see if it may be up your alley.

The book begins with a list defining the traits of your True Self. It’s calm, empirical, assertive, honest, empathetic, curious, and compassionate. If you feel that you may have lost these traits due to the hardships of life, Dear Self makes a case as to how and why you could go about reclaiming your greatness.

Erik invites you to be curious and compassionate with yourself, and usually it does help to calm the storm in your head, but that’s not enough. Reworking your inner dialogue can be made easier by journaling and Dear Self briefly touches upon different mediums from the traditional longhand, to audio and possibly video. (What do you think vloggers are doing?) The invitation to write out your emotional experience in a gentle and patient way is possibly one of the simplest, but most powerful suggestions made in the book.

Then of course there’s also a small glimpse of Internal Family Systems to help understand the ambivelance most, if not all of us experience when it comes to understanding our emotions and motivations.

You do not need to be fully educated in the IFS approach to understand this aspect of Dear Self (though itis suggested) because it is explained in such an obvious way. Basically, our entire beings are comprised of different sub-personalities, and Erik’s main principle remains: learn how to approach these parts with curiousity and compassion.

At the beginning of the book, the caveat is put forth that a lot of what is shared is due to personal experience. I didn’t get that impression until much later in the book when Erik begins to talk about specific examples from his real life, most notably in the closing section that barely scratches the surface of the journey he’s been through. I believe that more examples of his own IFS conversations and journaling experience could have enhanced those sections to make the book feel less formal and more intimate, since intimacy with The Self is what this book is meant to promote.

Furthermore, in the section covering where The Self has gone, there is the example of a mother who is easily disturbed by noise, and how that might affect how she would raise her child as just an inconvenience. I think that example could have been fleshed out more if there was a bit more detail about how and what may have caused her aversion to loud noises by going into her history with possibly being yelled at, or witnessing loud confrontations between her parents to drive the point home.

There are also a few misplaced commas and syntax errors a simple re-read can fix, but all in all, Dear Self is a quick and concise read that should help you start on your path to self-knowledge. A revised and possibly a slightly extended version can help work out the kinks of this powerhouse of a debut book.

If you’re still wondering if the investment in yourself is worth it, I would argue that it would be. Because self-knowledge is a fundamental human trait, and without it, how can we possibly know how people relate to us if we don’t even know ourselves?

You can download Dear Self by Erik Lugnet for free at Smashwords, or if you’d like to support my friend and purchase it for $0.99, you can do so at Amazon!