FLIRTIN' WITH THE MONSTER
Edited by Ellen Hopkins
Interest Level: Middle and Upper Grades
This is a compilation of essays written by favorite YA authors as well as a judge, an addiction specialist and other therapists, in response to the books CRANK, and GLASS, which give readers a glimpse into the life of a teenager's entry into and spiral down the tunnel of "the monster," crystal meth. There are also essays written by family members, including "Kristina" herself.
I loved this book, and think it should be read by parents, teens, teachers, probation officers, judges and any other person who might come into contact with this insidious drug, either directly or indirectly. (Which means, basically, everyone should read it!)
The book opens with an introduction from Ellen Hopkins herself. After reading it, and the subsequent first contributed essay, I was so taken with what I read, that I ended up reading my favorite parts aloud to my husband. I was so touched by the books CRANK AND GLASS, and it was amazing to read other peoples' reactions and realize that they were so similar to my own. I also sent an email to Ellen to express my gratitude to her for sharing her story with the world. I truly believe that an untold number of teens will be spared the nightmare of dancing with the monster, because of Ellen's strength and amazing method of getting her personal pain on paper and sharing it with the world. My favorite quote from her introduction is, "Never pray lightly. Someone just might be listening."
My favorite contributed essay is by Niki Burnaham, a popular YA author. Her take on YA literature is one I hadn't considered before. I am one of those librarians who believes that teens want to read books that are relevant to them--this means some of the content of such books might not be content that adults feel are savory or "appropriate" because they might contain situations and language we don't deem as acceptable for our teens to take part in or use. Many people feel that YA authors have a responsibility to limit their writing so it is only about characters who are good role models. In reading only about "perfect" characters, however, teens aren't exposed to characters who are real, or believable. Burnham drove her point home when she talked about popular children's literature...I had never thought about it before, but even small children are drawn to stories about characters who have flaws, or who don't always make the best decisions. The example she used in her essay was a popular children's book about a bunny whose mother loves him even when he misbehaves. The story is believable and desirable to small children because they can relate to the bunny's desire to assert his independence, even if it means he gets in trouble by doing so. By the teen years, Burnham explains, life has become more complex and the stories teens read should reflect that reality. In the real world, people swear, they hurt others, they lie, and they struggle with knowing the right thing to do in situations that don't always have simple black and white answers, and they must learn that actions have consequences. Teens don't learn life lessons from characters who are perfect; they learn from those who are imperfect. When a book is so sanitized that in contains only perfect characters, or characters whose role in the story is only to teach a reader a lesson, that book no longer rings true to the reader. I had never stopped and thought about all the books for young children that are about characters who aren't exactly role models for our wee little ones to base their own choices and decisions on. Teens are drawn to books about broken characters too, and with older characters, naturally the situations they find themselves in because of their brokenness are going to be grittier, and sometimes even harsh. This doesn't mean they're not books that are worthy of being read--it makes them even more worthy of being read--especially if reading them will impart a lesson that might prevent the reader from making the same mistakes as the broken character. As a parent myself, and someone who has established relationships with many of my own teen patrons, I would rather my kids read about unsavory situations than experience them for themselves.
I could write my own essay in response to almost every essay contained in this book, but if I were to do that, then I wouldn't leave you with a reason to read the book on your own. The sections written by family members, especially the essays by Kristian and her son Orion, are essays I will read time and again. This is a fantastic book--fans of CRANK and GLASS will be drawn to it, and will have a hard time putting it down from the time they open it, until the last page is read.