Allison's Book Bag

The Best Teen Writing of 2008, Compiled by Alliance for Young Artists and Writers

Posted on: June 15, 2013

Entertainers. Athletes. Leaders. Academics. The top students in these groups receive awards and attention. A lesser known fact is that, in 1923, Scholastic extended that list to include Writers, by finding a national award program to “celebrate the accomplishments of creative students and extend to them the same opportunities for recognition as their classmates”. In addition, The Alliance of Young Artists and Writers creates an annual student-edited anthology of teenage writings from across the country. Fifteen-thousand free copies of these Best Teen Writing are distributed each year to students, teachers, families, and educational organizations throughout the United States. This week, I’m reviewing the 2008 edition.

Although content is usually the focus of my attention and not format, here I’d like to start by requesting for a new anthology design. Yes, I know that the economic reality is these anthologies probably have limited sales and so need to be cheaply produced, but how wonderful if these talented writers could have a more elegant showcase. As for that format, each anthology comes in a 5 x 8 paperback edition of, oh, about 200-300 pages. Nothing wrong with this. Upon glancing inside, however, the format of at least the 2008 one becomes more of an issue.

  • The text is small and, despite double spacing, makes the pages look dense. Just as bad, the paper is a newspaper gray which makes the book look cheap.
  • There are no pictures. As Alice in Wonderland would say, “What’s the use of a book without pictures?” Of course, Alice is only about seven or eight years old, while this anthology is for teenagers. Take a look at any other anthology created for adolescents and you’ll find it equally devoid of pictures. This one however cries for pictures, or at least scattered color because of the small print and gray pages.
  • My next complaint involves the fact that it’s only in the table of contents that I can determine if a writing is a short story or memoir. Given that the compilers did take time with each new selection to post not only the standard title and author, but also the writer’s age, location, and teacher, why not also add the genre?

To sum then, if I were to make a wish list, I would ask for bigger text, whiter paper, and a dash of color. If money were not an option, I would even request that some student artwork accompany the selections. And, before I proceed further, let me re-iterate that the only reason I even request a new design is because the writing is mostly excellent.

Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What about the content? As I delved into the anthology, I started compiling a list of topics and found quite a range. These award-winning teens are writing about some deep and universal concepts such as the effects of remaining in one town or leaving home, the nature of evil and prejudice, or the repercussions of grief and death. Even when writing about issues of the most concern to a young adult audience–such as dating, career choices, drug abuse, and premarital sex–their approach is often serious, without the emotional drama displayed in most teen television series. However, they’re also writing about light-hearted stuff such as the Cookie Monster, spam e-mail, and tea eggs.

A few of my favorites are listed below. You’ll notice that the majority of them were multicultural. Whether or not it was a deliberate choice by the judges, the anthology seemed culturally diverse in its content. As it happens, my favorites are also featured among those selections which were most unique to my world view. I might have more to say about this in my reviews of future anthology editions, but that’s all I want to say here.

  • Date of Release by Jasmine Hu is about a young Asian woman who returned to China to spend time with her grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimers. The Asian context is rich, referring to Qing And Ming dynasties, bamboo slats, green tea, Tang poetry, and the tradition of retirees to walk caged birds. On a deeper level, the story is about memories, those we lack and those we share.
  • Names, also by Jasmine Hu, is about a couple who are trying to decide on a name.  The parents of both the husband and wife think that their respective beliefs are correct. On a deeper level, the story is about heritage and making new traditions.
  • Oranges by Vivian Truong is about Jess’s desire to make music, but also to honor his family who has made sacrifices for him to become a doctor. A parallel story is about a man who shops at the family store for oranges, the latter of which invokes memories of his wife who has died. On a deeper level, the story is about what to hold in the past to hold onto and what to release.
  • Tourist by Amelia Wolf is about a young woman who visits Jerusalem, the land of her birth. While there she misses Oregon. Once back in the United States, however, she also misses Jerusalem.
  • Beneath the Snow by Eric Kofman is about how a man can be a hero and a villain. This line succinctly captures this confusion: “His good deeds were in the shadow of his darker ones, and things weren’t black and white in my mind anymore.” Later there is this line: “We were still on the mountains, but far from those towering peaks, seeing a different facet of the Andes.”
  • That Special Time of Year by Gabe Lewin is told in vignettes and about the difficulty of being Jewish when everyone else celebrates Santa Claus and Christmas. In breathtaking honesty he admits that to the end of his school years he never had the courage to defy those traditions.
  • Two-Minute Journey by Mark Warren is about the block-and-a-half walk which the author made daily — or, in total, 3,500 times. Even though in the very first paragraph he reveals that on the next walk he will be beaten up, the moment when it happens is still painful to read.

Such is the power of the majority of these selections. Most than once, I had to remind myself that these selections were written by teens, ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, and not adults. In their bios in the back pages, some authors have indicated plans to enter other artistic fields while some plan to become professional writers. If the selections offered in Best Teen Writing of 2008 anthology is any indication, the literary world can look forward to some amazing works in the near future.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

2 Responses to "The Best Teen Writing of 2008, Compiled by Alliance for Young Artists and Writers"

Allison, you really made a huge work with this post. Actually I have a question, it is something that you do only in your school or is it national ? And thoses books are really wrote by teenagers ? Sorry if you answered it already, because sometime it’s not so easy to be focus on the screen.

Happy saturday dear !!!

Grace

The Best of Teen Writing anthologies is not by me but rather is a national project. I am simply a reviewer. 🙂

Wikipedia writes this about the endeavor: “The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the longest running, most prestigious competition and largest source of scholarships for creative teenagers in the United States. The Awards program was created in 1923 by Maurice Robinson, founder of Scholastic Corporation, and has been administered by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers since 1994. It has an impressive legacy and a noteworthy roster of past winners including Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, and Joyce Carol Oates and many others.”

Have a blessed weekend!

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