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Discussing Politics Through Young-Adult Fiction

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By guest blogger Ariel Mond

In March, British author Annabel Pitcher clinched the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize with her young-adult novel Ketchup Clouds (Orion, 2012). The young author's second work, Ketchup Clouds is a dark yet insightful tale about Zoe, a guilt-ridden teenage girl caught in a love triangle gone wrong. Zoe cathartically writes letters to a Texas death-row inmate after being involved in the death of one of her romantic interests. The letters, which go unanswered yet grow in intimacy as the convict's sentencing date draws near, reveal the English teen's troubled home life as well as the deadly drama surrounding Zoe's dark secret.

Reviewers have praised Pitcher for her impeccable "knack for storytelling," and children's new titles buyer for Waterstone's Melissa Cox hails Ketchup Clouds as "an unsettling yet fantastically fresh and brave take on the teen confessional."

More than just a compelling novel, Pitcher's work of young adult literature has potential for classroom application. At an Amnesty International event at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, Pitcher will join Scottish teacher Claire Dancer in discussing "how fiction can be used in the classroom to stimulate lively discussion around the death penalty."

Of course, using fiction for multi-disciplinary purposes is not a new technique. Literature does not exist in a bubble, and English teachers almost always need to include a brief history lesson in order to acquaint students with the setting of an assigned work. It is impossible to read Animal Farm without a brief introduction to Stalin, The Scarlet Letter without knowledge of early Puritan America, or The Red and the Black without a crash course on major events in French history between 1789 and 1830. And, the partnership between literature and history exists on a two-way street: Reading an excerpt from a work of fiction in a history class to gain a different perspective on a certain topic can be just as useful as including a brief history lesson in an English class in order to contextualize a novel.

Pitcher's book, however, has the unique potential to combine fiction and politics - and to do so in a way that personally connects to students. By combining the common teenage experiences of social woes and family troubles with powerful themes of remorse, compassion, and guilt, Ketchup Clouds offers the teenage intrigue of Twilight, the depth of Crime and Punishment, and a way into the death penalty debate. With the ability to pique students' interest and give teachers a tool for literary and political discussion, Ketchup Clouds could be a real winner when it comes to interdisciplinary education.

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