Thursday, June 20, 2013

IRA Convention Highlights Post #7: Dystopia and Adoption Literature

As I've commented several times, my favorite sessions at the IRA Convention are the author panels. In the dystopia panel I attended on Sunday, I hadn't read any of the authors, but I still enjoyed the conversation. The three authors were Marie Lu, D.J. MacHale and Susan Beth Pfeffer.

The last session I attended on Sunday was an overview of YA books about adoption.  Here's the description:
In this interactive session, presenters will share insights gained from analysis of 41 contemporary fiction YA books. For teachers seeking to make a difference with rich content for adolescent readers, adoption literature raises significant questions about what family structures and contexts are valued, who has power and choice in relationships, and how adolescents are positioned and viewed. Themes emerging from the analysis have relevance beyond the adoption topic, as individual books and recurring themes reveal related, often unexamined, assumptions about race, gender roles, class and privilege, sex and sexuality, religion, and the role of social context in personal development.
The presenter, Dr. Sue Christian Parsons, from Oklahoma State University, did an excellent job of discussing the themes in these books, and the way each member of the adoption triad - child, birth parents, adoptive parents - is presented. It looks as though the handout, and list of novels, isn't included on the IRA site. I had only read two of the books, Three Black Swans, by Caroline Cooney, and Carpe Diem, by Autumn Cornwell. (I enjoyed the first, reviewed here, less than I have other Cooney books, and thought the second was excellent.  I reviewed it here.)   In both cases, I had rather uncritically accepted the stereotypical portrayals of the members of the triad, just as the presenter said that readers often do. Parsons called for YA novels that contain more nuanced portrayals of adoptions. When it comes to adoption (and many other topics), I recognize that I very much need education from those who know a lot more than I do. I remember, when I was in my early 20s, spending time with a mother and her adopted daughter. I asked some blundering question using the words, "real mother." My friend very gently and respectfully said to me, "We don't use the words 'real mother' in this house." Then she gave me some alternative language to use. I cringe now to think that I would have been so insensitive, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn better ways. This session was part of my ongoing education, and I am going to seek out more of these books to read with a more critical lens. 

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