Friday, October 12, 2012

YA Reading, Round 3: Issues

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Issues. That has been the theme of my last two weeks of YA reading, and let me tell you…it makes for a semi-depressing class. The structure of my class readings is this—we have one or two books that everyone reads and then we get to pick one or two books of our own from our textbook of book lists. Then, we share what we read, as if we’re describing it to a teen reader.

There are a lot of downer YA books out there. And some of those plots sound like the authors are the ones trying to work out some serious issues. [Seriously, how do people think up some of this stuff? And why???] Luckily, my choices weren’t too dark, but the class got us to talking about why so many YA books have such serious subjects. One thought is that the adolescent years are when you start really feeling. You discover you have a reaction and you can empathize, and you feel more intensely than ever before. I remember that overflow of emotion being addictive. So maybe it’s that.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams was recognizable to me from the book blog world, actually. I think there was a lot a buzz about it a couple years ago. The story follows 13-year-old Kyra who is growing up on an isolated polygamist compound. The only world she knows is one in which she has three mothers and twenty siblings, and the Prophet’s word is synonymous with the Word of God. Once he decrees that she must marry her 60-year-old uncle, though, Kyra snaps. She’s desperate for the outside world and starts planning her own escape. Readers will quickly connect with Kyra, who you just know is different. She’s independent and inquisitive and isn’t under the same spell as her peers on the compound. Her hunger for knowledge leads her to befriend the local book mobile driver (on the sly, of course), and the illicit library books she reads each week open her eyes to a world outside her own. This story has a quick pace and is a bit of a thriller towards the end. Readers will be interested in this infamous lifestyle that is (probably!) so different from their own.

Brian Katcher’s Almost Perfect introduces us to Logan, a high-school senior who is recovering from the sudden break-up with his longtime girlfriend. In small town Missouri, it’s hard to get over someone when your world is rather small and you see them every day. But then, enter new student Sage. First of all, there’s never a new student in Boyer. Second of all, there’s just something about Sage that sucks Logan in. She’s tall and bold and boisterous—totally unlike any of the other girls roaming the halls. But Sage has a secret that she eventually shares with Logan [this is not a spoiler; it’s on the back of the book]. Sage—the girl Logan can’t stop thinking about—is actually a boy. Almost Perfect is told from Logan’s perspective, and it captures all the confusion and mixed emotion as he finds out that everything he believed…everything he knew…about Sage was a lie. It captures all the hurt and solitude and misunderstanding of a transgendered teen trying to find his/her place in the world. There are definitely times when you think that Logan is a jerk with his hurtful reactions, but I also really like that the author didn’t sugarcoat the story. It’s a difficult subject and a difficult situation, and I thought Logan’s reactions, though they made me sad, were probably realistic. There’s a lot of repetitiveness as Logan goes back and forth, back and forth, in dealing with the situation, but I think that’s the only place the narrative stalls. Otherwise, it’s well-written and engrossing. It would be interesting to pair this with a novel from the transgendered teen’s perspective; I Am Jay by Cris Beam is one to consider.

My last one of the week, Schooled by Gordan Korman, is by far the simplest and least depressing. I mean, it is published by Hyperion (owned by Disney), so what do you expect? Capricorn (Cap) Anderson grew up on a commune with his grandmother, surrounded by nature, yoga, and political activism. But now he’s entering public school for the first time, and the normalcies of a 21st-century middle school are completely lost on him. And unfortunately, he’s walked into a tough crowd. It’s school tradition (unbeknownst to the administration) that the 8th grade class always nominates the dweebiest kid to be Class President, setting the kid up for a year of pranks and torture, and Cap is their new man. Cap, though, just doesn’t get it. He’s so naive that he doesn’t realize when he’s being bullied for someone else’s amusement, and he just keeps trying to get the job done. In true Disney fashion, though, the student body has a change of heart as they get to know Cap, and Cap becomes a hero. It’s a fun read, though totally unrealistic. (You can’t just assume bullies will eventually see the error of their ways!) However, it did make at least one good point: Cap’s bullies got incredibly frustrated when he didn’t react to their pranks, so there’s a lesson about bullying in there somewhere!

1 comment:

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