Author Archives: Alyssa Lyons

Blog Post #3: Humor and the Body (Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon)

After I read the McGillis piece, a series of questions surfaced for me: What are the ways in which humor is embodied? How does humor get (re)articulated through bodies? What are the meanings of different kinds of humor and how do they weigh in/on the body and how does the audience make meaning of them? I really started to grapple with these questions and the ways in which “the body has been a source of humor” (.258) as I read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

In Everything, Everything, Yoon chronicles the journey of teenager Madeline Whittier, a self-identified multiracial Japanese and African American girl who believes that she has a dangerous and life threatening auto-immune disease. Madeline lives her life (or her semblance of a life) in her decontaminated house under the supervision of her mother and her nurse, Carla. Quarantined in her home since an infant, Madeline knows little of the outside world and has capitulated to the demands of her disease out of necessity. Madeline’s very body becomes threatened when she makes contact with the outside world (her sickness is embodied quite literally here).

Early in the novel, Madeline describes the condition of her disease in relation to how it fueled her passion for reading and the ways she interacts with books (by labeling them as her property), she remarks: “I don’t know why I do this. There’s no one else here except my mother, who never reads, and my nurse Carla, who has no time to read because she spends all her time watching me breathe” (.1). Here, Madeline deploys humor not only to explain her medical condition and the impact it has on her body (“basically, I’m allergic to the world”) but she also utilizes humor to convey the ways in which her disease regulates her interactions with and navigation of the world (specifically, the world inside her house). For Madeline, humor allows her to cope with a medical condition that could ultimately be a death sentence. It helps her processing and speaks to her desire to not be the object of any one’s pity. Madeline does not want to be restricted to the confines of her house, though she realizes that this is her social reality and thus humor becomes a vital part of how she traverses it. The humor expressed early in the novel speaks to the ways in which humor can create necessary space and/distance from excoriating human experiences, a line of reasoning that McGillis draws, as he states “we can realize that the humor provides us with a necessary distancing from the death so that we can take in the lesson this death delivers” (.263). Madeline was distancing herself from her illness and the significance and power it had over her life through the deployment of humor. Furthermore, Madeline arguably pokes fun at her disease in an exaggerated fashion that is characteristic of humor in children’s literature—for instance, when she says she’s allergic to the world. Madeline isn’t literally allergic to the world (only certain triggers) but by exaggerating Madeline constructs herself as aberrant, as different, a notion that speaks to McGillis’ assertion that “the point is that much humor for children is exaggerated, fantasy writ large, a reminder of the monstrous and the freakish. The freakish serves, as Susan Stewart asserts, to normalize the person reading about or looking at the freak, ‘as much as it marks the freak as an aberration’ (.267).

Later in the book, the plot really thickens and humor gives way to a teenage love story. Whereas humor is how Madeline initially copes with her condition, she later hinges her future, desires, and ambitions on her next door hunky neighbor, Olly. Madeline falls in love with Olly and doesn’t really rely on humor to explore, process, or understand (which felt so problematic to me)—Olly becomes more important than coping and figuring her own thing out and the novel’s emphasis on embodiment shifts to consider the ways in which love inhabits and affects the body (heart racing, flutters, butterflies, Madeline’s “body blushing”) and how perceptions and realities of health operate inside and outside the body (when Madeline describes feeling well versus when she feels like she feels like she’s been “doused with kerosene and lit with a match” (.224; .234). Near the conclusion of Everything, Everything, Madeline discovers that she doesn’t have a life-threatening auto-immune disease. Rather, it is implied that her mother has an undiagnosed mental health issue that surfaced after the deaths of Madeline’s father and brother when she was a baby. I think it’s worth considering how humor shifted, evolved, and (dis)appeared throughout the novel (as well as broader dynamics and themes of masculinity and femininity, gender, sexuality and race).

Discussion Questions for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Hey y’all! Here are my discussion questions for Alexie’s book. Looking forward to getting into this book–there’s so much there! See everyone Thursday.

  1. Schools and schooling occupy a large space in Junior’s life. How are schools sites of colonization/coloniality? Sites of physical and psychological violence and trauma for indigenous students (and other students of color)? How are Reardon and Wellpinit sites of violence in their own ways? Is there space for anything to exist in these schools for indigenous students besides violence?
  2. Junior is hyper aware of what it means to belong/unbelong and he explores this constantly in the novel. What do you make of the theme of belonging/unbelonging as Junior navigates the spaces in his life—family, school (Reardon, the rez, etc.)? Where does the title of the book — The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — figure into this conversation?
  3. Similar to the main characters in Skim and Challenger Deep, Junior’s artwork is prominent throughout the book. What is the significance of Junior’s art? How can/does his art take on different meanings in different moments for varying audiences?
  4. One of the themes I constantly grappled with is the meaning of whiteness in the novel. Junior concurrently wrestles with a vehement antipathy and criticality toward whiteness and white people and a desire to be proximate to whiteness and white people. How does whiteness function/permeate/pervade the novel? In schools? In interpersonal relationships (Gordy, Mr. P, Penelope, etc.)
  5. Poverty is discussed throughout the book; it is salient in Junior’s life. In one particular scene, Junior remarks, “it sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor…poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor” (pg. 13). What are the intersections of race and poverty in Junior’s life? How does he make sense of it? What are the traumas of intergenerational poverty and how do they weigh on the body and the mind? For Junior? For Rowdy? Mary? For his parents? For the rez?
  6. The basketball game between Wellpinit and Reardon is a MOMENT (pg. 143). Can we talk about this moment? What happens in it? How does it explode/implode? What does it mean and what sits in it?
  7. Emotions sit heavy and nuanced in this book—anger, hope, pain, sadness, joy, and resignation are captured and lived out in the lives of the characters. What do you make of the emotional experiences and responses of the characters? How are emotions and emotional experiences reactions to structures and systems of oppression (i.e poverty & racism)? How are emotions resistance?

There were so many emotions, thoughts, concepts, and directions to Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. So much weight. It’s so hard to narrow something down for the secondary source, but narrow down I must so here goes…

One of the things that really struck me while reading was the centrality of formal schooling in Junior’s life–more specifically, the scope of schooling, the impact of schools and the people in them on Junior’s life, and schooling as a historical and contemporary tool of colonization under white settler colonialism and anti-indigenous racism. I’ve also felt like contemporary moments are engendered by historical processes in ways we do/don’t/refuse to recognize, and this particular secondary reading speaks to the historical globalization of colonization in indigenous communities and how formal schooling has been very much a colonial project (its focus is Australia). Here’s my secondary reading (it’s a public sociology blog-like type of article, so I hope this is ok?):

Paternalism, Colonialism, and Indigenous Education, by Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos

As a note, I do struggle with one of Zevallos’ claims, which is that the formal educational systems in previously (or currently) colonized countries do not need radical overhaul of their education systems, and that anti-indigenous and anti-black racism can be challenged through teaching alone. Like, are teachers really enough? I would like to maybe explore this more in class with y’all.

If anyone’s interested in additional readings, this one traces the historical genealogies of colonialism in education in Canada, and it’s written by an indigenous teacher-educator:

See everyone Thursday!

Nikolajeva Text (Discussion Questions)

So, there was A LOT in these readings to make sense of/move through/unpack. I’m still working through some of it, to be honest, but here are some of the questions that surfaced for me while reading. Also, apologies for the clunkiness of the questions and that there are so many of them!


  1. Nikolajeva speaks to the interconnectedness between identity formation in children and literature (specifically, fiction). In other words, we must consider the ways in which fiction shapes the identities of children and young adults. Pushing this line of thinking further, how might fiction shape the identities of children along racial/socioeconomic/gendered boundaries? And to that end, what happens to children’s identities when they open books and the images of themselves are distorted, erased, or missing altogether?
  2. Children’s (and YA) literature compels us to bring ourselves inside of ourselves as both an intellectual and emotional experience. As we move through the academe, what do we lose/gain/sacrifice we don’t value children’s literature as “scholarly”? When we don’t value it across academic disciplines? When we just don’t read it?
  3. It seems like children’s literature is written through the adult gaze. In what ways does the author’s positionality matter with regards to the tales they tell and how they tell them? What are the implications of attaching/detaching the author from the work(s) they produce?
  4. So while I was reading, this quote got to me— “Not even all adults possess the meta critical knowledge that would enable them to verbalize their appreciation of literature or art in full, rather than offering vague and subjective response (‘liked’- ‘didn’t like’)”. This assertion seems epistemologically elitist and so I really struggled with this. Who is defining the “standard” for engagement with texts? How should engagement with texts be defined and what does it look like? Also, what are some other ways of knowing/making meaning/and interpreting texts?
  5. This idea of the “novice reader” really stuck to me (and I’m trying to make sense of how I feel about it—I kept thinking of how readers as individuals are not removed from larger “isms”—racism, classism, ableism, sexism, queerantaginism). What do you make of the construct of the “novice” reader and the distinction between the “novice” reader and the “expert reader”? (Cognitive Approaches)