The new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, has issued three challenges for readers. He calls the gauntlet he has thrown down "Reading Without Walls." I had just begun the debut novel Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan and was considering leaving it and moving on to another book when I read about his list in The Horn Book Magazine.
His first challenge was to read a book about a character unlike yourself. I realized this first challenge was the reason I was thinking about putting the book down. I had little in common with Piper. (1) In this coming-of-age story, Piper looks to finish high school and pursue an art education. You could put all my art ability in a thimble and still have room for my finger. (2) She lives in the city of Houston, with the ambition of moving on to New York City to pursue her art. I’m stretching my urban comfort zone to live just outside the city limits of Hattiesburg, MS (population – less than 50,000). (3) Her teen years are filled with risky behaviors and coarse language. My teenage environment as the daughter of a rural pastor was sheltered.
Piper’s intensity as she and her two friends work toward making it to New York together hits pitfalls as each of them encounters obstacles. Piper’s close-knit family deals with her sister’s pregnancy that intensifies the rivalry between them and with the reality that the art school she wants to attend is beyond their budget.
I soon found myself pulling for Piper, turning pages to see how she and her friends would handle their difficulties, and enjoying the quotes that kept her inspired. (“As soon as you stop wanting something, you get it.” – Andy Warhol)
I’m glad I accepted this first challenge from Gene. I’ll be doing the others as well, and reporting here before his year is up. If you’d like to join the fun, you can find his challenge at: http://geneyang.com/the-reading-without-walls-challenge. Piper Perish makes a good place to start.