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Beyond the world we know | class #4, spring 2017


This week’s topic is “Beyond the world we know” — a category that encompasses an extensive range of books, from magical realism to science fiction to the far away places of other worlds. Jane Langton’s classic piece on fantasy from the 1973 Horn Book, “The Weak Place in the Cloth” provides an apt and lovely metaphor for the various ways that authors peek through, or break open, the barrier between reality and fantasy. Students will also read Kristin Cashore’s piece “Hot Dog, Katsa” on the pitfall-laden task of world-building.

  • Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

  • Feed by M. T. Anderson

Folk and fairytales have long been fodder for writers, who re-tell, borrow, fracture, and invert the original stories to make them their own. I suggest that Tom McNeal bends the relationship between fairy tale and novel in a new way in his suspenseful tale Far Far Away. What do others think about the blending of new and old? What does the novel suggest about the role of folklore in both literature and our psyche?

Published fifteen years ago, M.T. Anderson’s dystopian satire Feed was disturbingly prescient about our reliance on technology and its toll on language, the environment, and perhaps humanity itself. As current technology — and other global developments — catch up with the Anderson’s vision of the future, is the novel running out of time? Or does it still have something to say to today’s iPhone generation?

Lauren Adams
Lauren Adams
Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.
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Min Hyun Oh

Like Shaina, Feed didn't really resonate with me as strongly as other texts. The beginning took some time for me to understand what was really going on...I abstractly understood the concept of "feed," but the jargon that was dropped here and there without much explanation confused me. I can see the merit in the dystopian theme/futuristic satire that creepily parallels today's social media world; but, I felt that some points (e.g., when characters would secretly "chat," like how people discreetly text each other with others around them, uses of omigod) were too apparent in their similarity to our world and the teenage slang in the text didn't really stand out that much to me. I also felt that the characters were a bit flat, maybe with the exception of Violet. Even though Titus spends a lot of time with his friends, the friends seemed very dull, and Titus doesn't change much--either from interacting with both his friends or even Violet. The story is driven by a novel concept of feeds, but the storyline seemed a bit flat for me...the incidents of the virus, lesions, mals, and dystopian undertone made me expect a rebellion from Titus/Violet, and I think not seeing that made me a bit disappointed. Or maybe the Hunger Games series spoiled me.

Posted : Feb 13, 2017 10:15

Nana Seiwaa Sekyere

Like many others, I also enjoyed reading Far, Far Away. My mum used to read some of Grimm’s fairy tales to me when I was growing up so it was nice to see Jacob and various fairy tales featured in the book. I knew this was a fantasy novel but at the same time it felt very real to me. The story was told so well that I began to forget that ghosts speaking to you, giving you advice and what not is not a regular occurrence in reality!

Posted : Feb 13, 2017 09:52

Kaci M.

Although I usually don't like fantasy books, I felt that Far, Far Away was, as Shaina mentioned, timeless. The way that it was written kept me intrigued and made it feel relatable even as a fantasy title. Additionally, this week's books as a whole expressed how relevant fantasy and Sci-Fi can actually be. While it still isn't my cup of tea, the thematic elements of Feed and Far, Far Away would be great for adolescents in a classroom. As far as relevance, I find Feed's depiction of consumerism even more relevant in today's society in which a huge figure of capitalism is at the head of this country. I think there are interesting themes and connections in this book to explore, such as that for example. However, as a reader I felt that the voice in Feed was too contrived and didn't enjoy that book.

Posted : Feb 13, 2017 09:48

Rebecca Hawk

I agree with what my peers have said so far regarding Feed's dialogue taking a while to get accustomed to. I think that this language added to the book's dystopic nature- in addition to asking readers to consider the ways in which technology invades and disturbs their lives, MT Anderson asks readers to consider how language could affect the complexity of their relationships. Like Bonnie, I loved the thread in Feed that focused on lesions. Thinking about how corporations might try tp rebrand environmental destruction in a way that is fashionable underscored the dangers of capitalism, technology and environmental destruction that are (in my opinion) not too far from our reality. I think Feed is definitely still relevant- if not more so-today than when it was published.

Posted : Feb 13, 2017 09:03

Gardenia Xiaoyuan Ye

I agree with Shaina that reading Feed is more like reading a realistic novel (not so much, but still). Themes such as consumerism depicted in the book are indeed quite relevant to today’s society. I feel like this book might be a good resource for young adults to reflect on problems in today’s world, but I also wonder if young adults who are living in an Internet era today would enjoy this book as much as they would a decade ago. I like Far Far Away in the way it is organized. The story is told in the voice of Jacob Grimm. Jacob only has conversation with the protagonist Jeremy, and anybody who is reading the book can be another Jeremy, and be a part of the secret conversation. Unlike Phil, I didn’t really experience a long-lasting guess on who the Finder of Occasions is. I was pretty much sure it’s the baker. But I did experience an expectation of something more magical and fantastical as Phil and Katie put it. Looking back at the whole plot, I do feel this unexpected realism goes well with all the fairy-tale elements in the book. Happy ending, happy ever after, long long ago, far far away…. All these references make the book similar to a fairy tale of Jacob’s (he is like a manipulator all the time, and Jeremy is hearing suggestions and is rescued by him), like what Bobby and Sophia have mentioned. On the other hand, it questions the common ending of a fairy tale, and makes it a more complex version than any fairy tale one has read in his or her childhood. Moreover, what I enjoyed most about the book Far Far Away is the small icon at the beginning of every section. It’s a little boy trying to escape from the arms of a skeleton. I guess that icon allowed me to foresee the plot a little bit from the very first page and kept me clearer on the track. I am curious how many of you may have made more sense of the small picture as well as the bigger one as a “prologue” with three human figures and a skeleton.

Posted : Feb 13, 2017 08:50

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