For school visit and lecture inquiries, please contact Christine Labov at the Penguin Random House Speaker's Bureau: clabov@ penguinrandomhouse.com. I am not available for Skype visits.
Below, organized by book title, are resources to use for your classroom or book club. Scroll down to find the book that interests you.
Genuine Fraud contains many elements of the textual complexity alluded to in the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy (ELA Appendix A).
The Junior Library Guild classifies Genuine Fraud as HIH+: high interest high school reading level, good for reluctant readers. The Common Core Standards state that students leaving high school should be able to “read and comprehend complex literary …texts independently and proficiently.”
Lockhart comments on several works of classic and contemporary literature, both “high culture” and “low” or “pop” culture sources, eliding the differences between the two and making Genuine Fraud highly intertextual:
- The novel re-imagines Patricia Highsmith’s classic 20th-century novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, as the story of a young woman in the 21st century, literally upending Highsmith’s antihero narrative by telling the story backwards.
- The heroine’s arc contains elements of Victorian orphan tales of class mobility and the moral compromises that mobility may entail, many of which are referenced in the novel: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackary, in particular.
- Less on the surface, but equally important references:
- As it is for Eliza Dolittle, heroine of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and the musical My Fair Lady, speech that conforms to certain class norms is the key to Jule’s upward mobility.
- Imogen references stories of both goody-goody orphans and edgy orphans that capture her imagination. In the first category: A Little Princess and Pollyanna. In the latter: Jane Eyre.
- Jule reads Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and absorbs some of its tenets, using the Goffman to inform her thinking about identity.
- Isaac Tupperman reads Ta-Nehesi Coates, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, all authors who explicitly explore heritage and identity for black Americans. Jule’s own trajectory looks the way it does partly because of her whiteness. Isaac's narrative of social mobility is different from hers.
- Jule picks up what astute readers will guess is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, another tale of double life and the evil that lurks within all of us.
- Likewise, she reads Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – a story about the mysteries of the human spirit. Darkness is also a tale (like Ripley and Genuine Fraud, and like Henry James’s The Ambassadors and Ann Patchett’s recent State of Wonder, among many other novels) that sends a protagonist abroad to corral a misbehaving person, inciting a huge change of perspective and understanding of the world on the part of the hero (or antihero).
- The action movies (Bourne Identity, James Bond films, etc.) and superhero narratives (Spider-man, Batman, Deadpool, The Incredible Hulk etc.) referenced in Genuine Fraud appear alongside works of canonical literature. Lockhart suggessts that we should question the separation scholars traditionally make between high and low culture, and indeed the questioning of categories (and class categories in particular) is one of the central topics of the novel.
- The origin story of Spider-Man involves a transition from being “nobody” to being immensely powerful, and at the same time to being someone who is outside the law. Like Jule, and the heroes of the Victorian novels mentioned above, Spider-Man is an orphan. Likewise, Batman. Like Jule, Hulk’s power stems from anger, and he struggles to harness that energy, teetering between hero and villain. Deadpool has a similarly precarious moral position, and his power is linked to his amorality.
Genuine Fraud has several features the ELA Appendix A refers to as qualitative measures of textual complexity:
- A complex structure: Genuine Fraud is told backwards, although each individual chapter goes forward. It invites the reader to make inferences beyond what most texts require.
- Multiple levels of meaning and textual ambiguity. There are many places in Genuine Fraud where readers must decide for themselves what is true and what isn’t. The novel engages with questions of identity, and how identity is shaped by the stories we tell about ourselves. It pushes readers into allegiance with a character who is extremely morally compromised, forcing them to question their own moral codes as they navigate the story. The three central characters have all separated from their families of origin in agresssive ways and for different reasons. Many other characters have done likewise. The novel examines these separations and the damage and independence they wreak. There are many possible interpretations of the book.
- Ironic, ambiguous and purposefuly misleading language. Upon a second read, the scenes in the book take on different connotations. The narrator tells no lies but misdirects the reader in a number of key ways. Literal meaning is at odds with underlying meaning.
- Figurative language. Images that repeat layer upon each other, collecting meanings but refusing to coalesce into a single, simple symbolic meaning. The three bridges, for example; the recurring high heels; the protagonist’s multiple origin stories; and references to “bleeding out.”
Here is a list of favorite anti hero stories and an essay on them for Foyles Bookstore in the UK: "You may hate the characters, but you will never, ever be bored."
This is a Q&A from the Reading Zone about Genuine Fraud.
WE WERE LIARS
We Were Liars also contains many elements of the textual complexity alluded to in the Common Core State Standards for Reading (ELA Appendix A). Here is the Penguin Random House Common Core Road Map for We Were Liars.
Here, also, is the official We Were Liars Readers Group Guide, with discussion questions about the novel written by Dr. Rose Brock.
The novel rewrites and comments upon several works of classic literature:
- Like Liars, Shakespeare’s King Lear is the story of an impaired monarch bent on choosing between three daughters and the toxic competition that choice forces upon the women.
- Also like Liars, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is the story of a poor boy of color brought into a wealthy white family, his ill-fated love affair with one member of that family, and the way the family’s disdain of him pushes him to monstrous deeds. Here is an article written for the Zoella Book Club about this connection.
- Andrew Lang’s famous fairy tale collections (The Blue Fairy Book, etc.) are referenced in Liars. The novel retells numerous fairy tales, including:
- The King Lear-like tale “Cap O’ Rushes”, which is best known in English as collected by Joseph Jacobs, though variations have appeared in many countries.
- “Sleeping Beauty” (collected by both Perrault and Grimm).
- “Beauty and the Beast” (Villenueve/de Beaumont).
Liars has several features the ELA Appendix A refers to as qualitative measures of textual complexity:
- A complex structure: Liars is a first-person narrative, but that narrative includes fairy tale interstitials, hallucinatory episodes of violence and scenes that are repeated with new interpretations at different points in the story.
- Multiple levels of meaning and textual ambiguity. The narrator is unreliable. Is Cadence lying? Is Cadence hallucinating? Were the Liars justified in any way to commit the crime they committed? Was the crime successful in any way? Is the Sinclair family acting of their own free will or are they in some way merely moving through patterns established in fairy tales that existed long before them? And so on. The novel is open to many interpretations.
- Figuritive, ironic, ambiguous and purposefully misleading language.
THE BOYFRIEND LIST
THE BOY BOOK
THE TREASURE MAP OF BOYS
REAL LIVE BOYFRIENDS
The Boyfriend List paperback contains an author Q&A and discussion questions.
Some books that make for interesting conversations in conjunction with The Boyfriend List and its sequels include: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty (published for adults), Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (published for adults), and The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti.
If your book club has very young members or if you want your reading list particularly wholesome, try: Girl, 15, Charming but Insane by Sue Limb or Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith, both of which touch on some of the same issues.
FLY ON THE WALL
The Fly on the Wall paperback contains a Q&A and discussion questions.
Fly on the Wall takes inspiration from high and lowbrow culture sources — most particularly Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Spider-man comics.
For a good read that articulates much of what I think about the place of sex in books for teenagers, read Tanya Lee Stone’s Voya Essay, “Now and Forever: The Power of Sex in Young Adult Literature.”
There are no publisher discussion guides for Dramarama, but if you have access to adlit.org you can search the title and find some interesting questions in an article there. Here, too, are some of my favorite read-alikes and related movies beyond Camp Rock that would make for interesting comparisons:
• DVD documentary: Stagedoor
• DVD movie (fiction): Camp
• How I Paid for College by Marc Acito (contains adult situations)
• Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
• Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
• Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
There is a nice list of YA theater books here, on GoodReads.
Dramarama and Fly on the Wall both feature gay male characters. If you want to read or recommend more books about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning teens, please look at these stellar booklists:
• Reading Rants’s Closet Club: Gay Fiction for Teens -- features in-depth reviews
• Abe Books' list of 30 "essential" LGBTQ+ YA novels
• Nita Tyndall's list of LGBTQ+ books that aren't coming out narratives: speculative fiction, realistic, historical and more
• Bookriot's list of 100 "must read" LGBTQIA books
THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS
Here’s a PDF file of the Hyperion Discussion Guide for The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
There’s a video of me reading from Disreputable History at the National Book Awards.
Audio recording: reading and chatting about the novel on Teaching Books.
Good for analytical projects and classroom discussion: YA Subscription’s video analysis of the book, with Kristin Cashore. Includes a comprehensive written summary.
Some interesting and spirited discussion of the book and its interpretations can be found at The Morning News Tournament of Books, here and here. More analysis of that whole business at the librarian blog, Tea Cozy — here and here.
HOW TO BE BAD
Readalikes that would make for good discussion on subjects of friendship: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson, TTYL by Lauren Myracle.
Other recommended co-authored books for teen readers in multiple voices: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green; Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.