Friday, August 31, 2007

Kidnapped: Book One: The Abduction, by Gordon Korman

In the young adult literature business, and in the book business generally, books labeled as "popular fiction" have a hard time earning the respect of reviewers and critics. Fortunately for the authors, they usually do pretty well with consumers, who tend to purchase them at greater rates than other forms of literature.

The main complaint about these books is that they are mere "entertainment," with little redeeming social value.

Reading the first book in the Kidnapped adventure series, The Abduction, by Gordon Korman, reminds me of this recurring, dismissive response to popular literature. After finishing The Abduction, I noticed that even though I had been asked to review this book by Signal, a reputable journal in the field of young adult literature, this book is not listed anywhere on the 2007 YALSA book lists and awards that I am reading for this project.

I don't question leaving this book off of the YALSA booklists, even though it would be an excellent book to read with "reluctant" young adult readers, especially in grades 5-7. This is certainly the perogative of the YALSA reviewers. I do question, however, the notion that this book is mere entertainment. In addition to having some fine writing and action, the book supplies useful insight--as perhaps other adventure books do too--on the current age in which we live.

What I am thinking of in particular is the current deep distrust of authority that one finds in a variety of contexts in the United States and throughout the world. In The Abduction, the main characters, Meg and Aiden Falconer, are deeply distrustful of the FBI and other institutionalized authority (e.g., school authorities and mainstream news organizations) as a result of prior poor experiences. Consequently, they rely upon themselves to solve problems, and they align themselves with other unconventional authorities--in the example of this book, a successful blogger on the Internet.

It seems to me that there are numerous examples in the contemporary world of the distrustful attitude toward authority embodied in books such as the Kidnapped series (which details, as the title indicates, Aiden's efforts to find his sister Meg who has been kidnapped). Yesterday's newspaper headlines about the release of a report about the Virginia Tech shootings last April reminds me that people in general are skeptical about the capacity of government and other social institutions to respond smartly to social problems. In 2004, 4 out 5 Iraqi's had a negative attitude toward the US Occupation and the Iraqi government, a distrust that has changed little in subsequent years and that is largely shared by most Americans. And some bloggers suggest that there exists a deep distrust of science and medical authority in many parts of the United States and the world.

My point is that popular fiction like The Abduction is not simply entertainment for the middle school set. It also represents the current age in which we live of fear and distrust which has given rise to a deep (and perhaps quintessentially American) desire for more models of courageous and creative behavior on the part of individuals and organizations.

Perhaps like the sixth grader and school principal reported below?

1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

This book, and the Chasing the Falconers series that precede it are GREAT for the reluctant reader. I enjoyed them as well. It is interesting that a lot of the people involved in awards committees have NO contact with actual children. Doesn't anyone else see this as a problem? I only buy award winners if my students will like them.