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Absolutely! (And this is from a young mom who is very concerned about sheltering her children as long as she can! Ha!) Hurston's books, and most notably Their Eyes Were Watching God brings up important issues in a way that serves as a wonderful springboard for conversation.
Joe Starks and emotional spousal abuse, ... a great opportunity to talk about a real problem still in existence today! How "real" love is apparent between Janie & Tea Cake! And, of course, the discourse about the horrors of racism in this country. Even a wakeup-call about tragedies such as the reality of rabies and the destruction of natural disasters such as hurricanes! We can't (and shouldn't) hide these things from our teens! Let's use this literature to truly teach!
Just as a personal anecdote, I have to add that teaching this particular novel in an all-girls Roman Catholic school in the northeast, gave me a GREAT opportunity to make the point that young women should never, EVER feel like they "need" a man to survive. Just like Janie with her dear Tea Cake, ... true love was apparent, ... but Janie's strength is proven when she survives beyond that true love.
I think that Hurston's books are highly appropriate for teens in a couple of ways. The first would be that Hurston is speaking from a point of view that is so authentic and so powerful that it allows one's own ethical and moral imagination to be expanded in reading. For example in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie experiences life in so many different ways and does so in such an authentic voice that this plays right into the strength of the adolescent reader, one who is struggling with their own sense of identity and understanding who they are in the world and how that is fluid. The style of writing in terms of getting the dialect of her characters as authentic is another reason why Hurston should be read by young teens. Hurston is forcing the standard configuration of the "black character" to be reevaluated. Moving away from the stereotype by confronting it, Hurston's body of work starts to initiate the discussion of race in American History. This cannot be a bad thing to get kids to legitimately talk about race. Indeed, there are adult situations in Hurston's books because she cannot effectively tell the narratives of her characters without it. It is up to parents and teachers to determine if they feel comfortable opening up those discussions with kids. Yet, it seems to me that all of us want kids to read literature, talk and think about it critically, and be able to understand it in the context of their own lives. This process is something that has to be facilitated with dialogue and discourse. Adult topics are not something to be scared of in this setting, but rather elements that can provide "teachable moments" in getting our young readers to be effective readers and citizens of the new world.
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