Showing posts from March, 2014

Sorting as a prevalent plot device in YA lit

This weekend I went to see Divergent, the movie adaptation of Veronica Roth's bestselling and Hunger Games-esque dystopia novels for young adults, largely because of the buzz in my school's feminist club about the main character who (gasp!) stands up for herself, has a girl best friend with whom she does not compete over boys, and manages to save the male lead/love interest practically as many times as he saves her.

Conflict in Divergent arises because the character is, as the title might imply, different; she fails to fit into a single "faction," a group determined by your strengths--selflessness, honesty, intelligence, kindness, or bravery. The story itself isn't an unusual one for YA lit: main character faces romantic subplot plus conflict with a corrupt government that threatens her life. And there's another thing: the prevalence of sorting. Think about popular YA novels/series of our time--Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, the Giver, Percy Jackson and the…

keeping up with the joneses, when the joneses are high schoolers

When I came back from South by Southwest EDU, I felt excited. Vitalized. Energized. Motivated. All the good words that end in -ed. But I also came back pressured. 
It wasn't the kind of pressure that anyone put on me explicitly. It was the kind of pressure that comes from talking shop with some of the smartest people in the teenage jet set, the kind of people who start awesome non-profits, build their own apps, launch political action committees, and compare speaking engagements the way some of my classmates compare who went to which parties. Instead of "Were you at Dana's? Joe's? Sarah's?" these peeps ask "Were you at CGI? Davos? TED?" 
In NY Times article the Youngest Technocrati, UChicago economist Gary Becker was quoted saying, "This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks unprecedented."
As our resumes get longer, younger, the insecurities pile up too. Impostor syndrome, which Wikipedia describes as "a psychological …


The full text of the talk I delivered at Yale and Columbia:
It’s 9:01 PM, and I’m looking at a photo.                It’s a photo of a bunch of smiling teenagers. They’re standing in a rather official-looking building with wood-paneled walls and a clock on the wall. They are exuberant. Close. Joyful—and, perhaps, joyfully smug. I have known some of them since middle school, others since sophomore or junior year. They are my classmates. My friends. They are my high school’s National Merit scholars, preparing to receive official district commendations.                This group of students will get the best that life can hand them. They are getting into Ivy League schools. Prestigious science research summer programs. Becoming finalists in competitions. Winning tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships. They stand on the precipice of taking control of their lives, and they are owning it.                Let’s backtrack a little. How did they get here?                When they were six…

American Eagle

I’m sitting at my desk, staring at a coupon card from American Eagle, the preppy teenagers’ clothing store. “LIVE YOUR LIFE” it reads, with a trademark sign. I wasn’t aware that AE had a copyright on this. I guess all of us livers-of-our-lives better pay up soon, or face corporate IP lawyers’ wrath.
The entire ad is drenched in landscape porn—crystal-blue rivers, sun-speckled mountains, hills upon hills of trees or snow. All pretty normal for AE.
Ignoring the alluring “Hey Adora, here comes cool: take 25% off” I couldn’t tell why I was staring at the advert until I looked at the people in the eleven pictures.
White. White. White. White. White. White. White. White. White. White.
One person, his face mostly obscured by the coupon insert, was a light-skinned African-American, Hispanic, or Filipino guy.
Walk past any AE store and you’ll see the same amount of racial diversity throughout in-store marketing. You see, American Eagle sells more than badly designed sweaters. They…

South by Southwest, Day 2

Christopher Hayes, author of one of my favorite books (Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy), had a lot to say about "Fractal Inequality"; he used the example of the summit at Davos to illustrate his points. He writes,

"When you arrive at the Zurich airport, your first instinct is to feel a bit of satisfaction that you are one of the select few chosen to hobnob with the most powerful people on Earth. Airport signs welcome and direct you to a special booth where exceedingly polite staff give you a ticket for a free shuttle bus that will drive you the two hours to the small ski-resort town in the Alps.

But you can't help but notice that other guests, the ones who landed on the same plane, but who were sitting in first class, are being greeted by an army of attractive red-coated escorts who help them with their bags before whisking them off in gleaming black Mercedes S-Class sedans for the two-hour drive.

Suddenly your perspective shifts. At first you had vi…