Allison Van Diepen’s Snitch is what, I guess, one could sort of classify as urban fiction (though not the sexy urban kind). Julia and her best friend Q are two of the only neutral kids in their Brooklyn high school, neutral meaning they’re keeping out of gang life. It’s a promise they made to each other back in middle school, and so far, they’ve done a good job at keeping it. But when a new boy, Eric, shows up and Julia finds herself falling for him, all her rules are broken. Snitch is a good, easy-to-read story about the complexities of gang life, the consequences of one’s actions, and the lines of friendships and relationships. It’s not too heavy but deals with some serious subjects. It was also next to impossible to find this book available anywhere in NYC! [I had to trek to a Queens PL branch and sign up for a card just to get this!] The copy I read was well-worn, so I get the impression that this is a popular book that speaks a message in just the right way to its intended audience.
Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole has a great story premise. Laura attends a Catholic high school in Miami and is about to celebrate her two-year anniversary with her girlfriend, Marlena. But then one slip of a passed note in class, and Laura’s entire world finds out that she has a girlfriend. On top of the taunts from peers and being disowned by her very traditional Cuban mother, Laura also gets dumped. So her life is in shambles, and it feels like it was for nothing. Laura is strong, though, and she works to put her life and relationships back on track while figuring out exactly who she is. Now, I am completely split on whether to recommend this book or not. First and foremost, the writing was terrible. The author is Cuban, and I can’t figure out if this is a translation from the original Spanish version. Regardless, the dialogue is incredibly choppy and unrealistic, and a lot of the colloquial phrases just don’t make sense [this is where it could be a victim of poor translation]. However, I really commend the subject matter and how it was handled. One of the most interesting aspects to Laura’s story is that she never defines herself as “gay.” She’s had one girlfriend but can’t classify herself strictly as a “lesbian,” and I thought this was a great point to bring up for teens (or anyone) struggling with their sexual identity. The supporting characters in Laura’s story were pretty one-dimensional (especially her mother, who I found to be one of the story’s weakest parts), but it’s Laura that matters. We follow her situation and she how she handles it on her own.
Cecilia Galante’s The Patron Saint of Butterflies is another one of those YA novels that introduces you to a different kind of lifestyle…one that has its own controversy surrounding it. Agnes and Honey have grown up in the Mount Blessing religious community, where their life follows the strict rules of their prophet, Emmanuel. Though they’ve always been friends, they are incredibly different. Agnes is an Emmanuel devotee—a Believer down to her core. Honey, on the other hand, thinks, essentially, that it’s all a load of crap. A surprise visit from Agnes’ grandmother, Nana Pete, reveals some things about the community that Emmanuel is very eager to keep quiet, and Nana Pete doesn’t take it all so lightly. She kidnaps Agnes, Honey, and Agnes’ brother Benny to escape, and that’s where their story of discovery begins. This book has a lot of action and twists (though, fairly predictable to me as an adult reader) that will keep a reader engrossed. It’s got the same draw as The Chosen One in that it follows fairly ordinary, relatable teens who are living in extraordinary circumstances.
Last but not least, Angela Johnson’s The First Part Last is a really short, simple book that’s garnered lots of prestigious YA awards. Bobby is your basic teenager—he’s sometimes reckless, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes acts older than he is, sometimes still acts like a child. The only difference between him and every other teenage boy is that he’s also a father. Once his girlfriend Nina got pregnant, childhood ended for both of them real fast, and they faced new decisions, the biggest one being whether they’re even going to keep the baby. Bobby’s story is told through alternating, fractured chapters that go back in time to tell his full experience—with Nina, with his friends, with his parents, before the baby, and in the present. It’s a good book for provoking thought and discussion, and teens should be able to get through it easily. It does a good job reflecting the scattered thoughts that one experiences. And one of my favorite parts about it is how it’s so ethnically “neutral,” if that makes sense. You never get any sort of racial background or description to most of the characters, which makes this story even more relatable to a wide audience.