If you're interested in stories where the apocalyptic event actually occurs, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is an excellent choice. In this intriguing story, Julia, the eleven-year-old narrator, experiences the slow decline of civilization as the Earth begins to slow its spin. From dying birds to mysterious sicknesses, the impact of the ever-increasing period between night and day continues to mystify and terrify Julia and her family. Meanwhile, she finds herself in her own tumultuous and often lonely adventure of early adolescence, a time made even sharper and more isolated by the changes occurring around her. She writes from a later perspective, looking back on those early events with bewilderment and nostalgia. She states the paradoxical nature of the peculiar occurrence: "We had rockets and satellites and nanotechnology. We had robot arms and robot hands , robots for roving the surface of Mars...We could make a dead man's heart pump blood through the body of a stranger. We were making great strides in the realms of love and sadness--we had drugs to spur desire, drugs for melting pain. We performed all sorts of miracles... And yet, the unknown still outweighed the known" (Walker 266). Julia struggles to find her way in an ever-changing world in which she is often painfully alone. The future remains frighteningly uncertain, and yet she finds that she is able to continuously move forward and face that future.
Translation for teen readers and the classroom:
This novel would address a variety of issues that could fit well in the classroom. It's a painfully conscious testimony to the struggles that children face as they become teenagers--struggles to fit in with others, to protect themselves from pain, to understand their parents and the adult world. It raises issues about loyalty, friendship, bullying, and alienation. Although it is an intriguing and creative work of fiction, it would not be an easy read for reluctant readers. On the other hand, it would appeal to students interested in apocalyptic events that, while intense, are not particularly violent or dramatic. It speaks particularly well to the experience of students on the fringe of social groups who struggle to blend into the larger social scene. It is a tender account of the human experience of adolescence and the desire to be remembered and to endure.
“Clearly the end is coming,” she said, pushing her bangs out of her face. They instantly fell back over her eyes, shading her beautiful face from the world. I contemplate what she means. “We all know it’s coming. It’s just a question of what it will be.”
I laugh, half because I think it’s what I’m supposed to do and half because I’m uncomfortable with the prospect that she might be serious. She shoves her bangs out of her face again and for an instant, I see the sparkle in her brown eyes, caked with dark eyeliner. In the moment that I can see her gaze, I find her studying me, as serious as the grave. She seems strangely excited and resolute. There is no trace of humor in her eyes.
“My vote is on zombies,” she says confidently. “You know, it could happen anytime.” She gestures wildly around the room as her bangs form a curtain again covering her face. As I follow the gesture of her arm, I suddenly see her fellow students, crazed and active in various states of frenetic energy, in a new and eerie light.
“It could be worse,” she says resolutely from behind the veil of her hair. I consider her statement. I guess she’s right.
She stares at me through strands of her black hair. There is conviction in her voice as she says, “I won’t go out without a fight.”
I nod. What else is there to say? There isn’t much more that any of us can hope for than to put up a valiant fight when the time comes. Zombies and all.
It was then, at that moment of prophetic importance for the single girl student professing what she knew to be true, that I realized that something fundamental had changed in the consciousness of my students. They live in a world that we, the adults, both fear and fail to understand. In their world, the reality of humanity’s frailty is omnipresent. Gone are the days of humanity’s bold and brazen position as the pinnacle of existence. Unbeknownst to those of us whose brains have ceased growing, the world as we know it no longer exists. Humanity is no longer the apex of a complex hierarchy. The teens of today know what we, the adult world, can only grasp at with frail, flimsy comprehension.
We are not the top of anything. And our end will come.
The children of the twenty-first century are the prophets, the realists, and the planners. They are aware at every moment, in every way, of the fact that our tenuous existence could cease at any moment. They ponder which end will consume them. They’re comforted by the simplicity of poems like “Fire and Ice.” They fear much more complex apocalyptic scenarios. They dread the lengthy progression of a slow, gradual extinction. They awaken each day understanding in a way that I, a cynic and pragmatist of the 1980s, can only begin to vaguely fathom.
They live in the era of the apocalypse. And we, their so-called educators, can only do our best to keep up with their evolutionary prospective.
It seems appropriate to proclaim here the purpose of this blog: I intend to explore how to teach trending literature to a population who grows in many ways but continues to stretch farther and farther from the literature we as a society hold so dear. They are amazing kids and they deserve our best. If my creativity can stretch half as far as theirs, I might be lucky enough to serve their needs from time to time.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.