As a self-admitted control freak, there was no other phrase that struck fear in my heart than "group project". Shutter! I hated group projects! In middle school, all we did was group work, which worked out great for the other kids in my group, but basically sucked for me. And they did this really strange thing in 7th grade where they put the top 10% with the bottom 10% thinking that the advanced kids could tutor the kids that were falling behind and be a good influence and stuff. Was mine the only school that conducted this doomed experiment? Whose bright idea was this anyway? I want to flick that guy in the eye.
Moving on. Group work and teamwork is a huge theme in children's literature, and a recent interview with soon-to-be children's author Jason Segal reminded me of that. While talking about his favorite movies and books as a child, he says:
"The thing about Goonies is that it shows kids that they're stronger together than apart. Like Goonies, Nightmares! is about a group of misfits who find a home together."
This got me thinking about children's books lately. No child or teen is acting alone. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson each have two sidekicks. Tris in Divergent has Four. Katniss has Peeta and Haymitch looking out for her. In 39 Clues, you have the Cahill siblings and their nanny, in The Kane Chronicles, there's the Kane siblings, obviously. In Going Bovine, Cameron is even accompanied by Gonzo and Balder on his morphine trip. The only book that I can think of where is the hero is utterly alone is Hatchet by Gary Paulson, and even there, that's the whole point of the book, it's very man vs. nature.
Maybe group work isn't such a bad thing afterall. You don't see Hermione complaining that she was somehow paired with Harry and Ron, even though they do not carry their weight when it comes to research. A Norse god in the form of a garden statue doesn't seem like a favorable companion, yet he plays a huge role in Cameron's journey. And even though Four through knives at Tris, he had her back the whole time. That last one seems the most realistic pairing to me. I was tempted to use violence several times while making a 10 minute video parody of MacBeth. (That was honestly an assignment. I'm starting to doubt the value of my education.)
I really do think that Jason Segal has a point. Every kid, and adult for that matter, likes to read about the kids that can't quite fit in, finding a group and overcoming the odds. That's just a great story. It's like the NCAA tournament. Everyone loves that one Cinderella team from a small school with players that were passed over by Duke or UConn or Michigan State and yet plays well and makes the finals. It's the Butler formula! I am using an awful lot of metaphors for a Monday morning.
Can you think of a children's or YA adventure book with a lone hero? I'd love to hear about it. Just leave me a comment or email me at misstiffreads at gmail dot com.