Wednesday, August 5, 2009

YA fiction: Growing up is (still) hard to do

Along with the pains of love, rejection, and curfews, fiction for young adults is filled with issues their parents never dealt with. There is a whole world of problems facing teens today that modern YA books confront with humor, directness -- and some surprising language. Look on the brighter side: your kid will grow out of this stage, and you can only hope he or she won't turn into a vampire.

Last Dance at the Frosty Queen Richard Uhlig
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Fictional Harker City, Kansas, 1988: Just about everything that could bore Arty Flood, 18, is wrapped up in the dusty roads and familiarity of the town's "1700 smiling faces." He's counting on the $1,400 from his last job to get far, far way from town and head for Wichita as soon as he can.

That's his plan, anyway. What could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out, in this funny and touching first novel by Richard Uhlig. This young-adult story sketches the everyday turmoil that lies beneath the small-town calm, where nothing is as it seems and Arty's life is a tangle of hormonal overdrive, frustration and family dysfunction.

One day, improbable as it seems, Arty meets the strange Lucia in a most unusual way and everything changes, including his plan. There is still a lot of complication in Arty's life, especially with his girlfriend Geraldine. And there's his relationship with the English teacher, who he comes to believe is "my only ticket out."

Last Dance at the Frosty Queen is written in a fast, first-person style that captures the confusion and uncertainty of life in a too-small town. There's some steamy sex and lots of salty language, too. Although the author never says as much, he obviously draws on his own small-town experience for much of the book's precise details. He seems to have had a lot of fun in the telling, too.

Does Arty get out before all his entanglements overwhelm him? Or, deep down, does he want to stay in Harker City for the rest of his life? These are similar to the big questions that everyone faces sooner or later. Arty makes some grown-up choices in this realistic, well-written story, and becomes an adult in the process.

The Confessional J.L. Powers (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) The Confessional has all the elements that should make it a good novel for young adults (it's aimed at readers age 14 and older). It features a complex plot involving murder, race, religion and cultural differences in El Paso, Texas -- there's a lot of weight in its 300 pages.

To author J.L. Powers' credit, the book never takes the easy way out. All the action is revealed through interwoven stories told by seven main characters, all high-school friends. Details overlap, the story jumps ahead or behind, and important elements emerge or are omitted as the story progresses. It's a style well suited to the kaleidoscope of events surrounding this murder in a border town.

Is this an appropriate novel for teens? That depends.

As can be expected in a novel centering on young adults, parents and other authority figures are secondary in resolving issues. Not a big surprise there. However, an adult reader may be surprised to find a quote from Travis Bickle at the head of one chapter -- the homicidal vigilante from the film Taxi Driver. The main characters debate patriotism and racism, drugs and sex in very frank terms (parents beware: six of the seven deadly words are repeated, often, from the very first page) and while the overall effect of these debates is potent, they seem to happen simply for the writer to make her points. This is not The Hardy Boys.

The fireworks fizzle at the end, for all the razzle-dazzle. The writer struggles to reconcile all the big issues she's dealing with, including the role of the Catholic Church in immigration issues. A gay teen may or may not have a crush on a gay teacher, or another student. The end result is a very contemprary, teen-market potboiler, with some very harsh language and a case of severe attention-deficit disorder.

Along for the Ride Sarah Dessen (Viking Juvenile, 2009) Sarah Dessen’s ninth novel teaches that messed up families come in all shapes and sizes, and that success doesn’t always make someone the world greatest, most admirable person.

It's been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents' divorce - or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the beach town where they live.A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother.

Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she's been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

Auden is a captivating character. It would be easy for a reader to feel sad for her, but many teen girls will find it all too easy to relate to her problems. High school can be a time for fun, friendship and feeling free, but there are more Audens in high school than we care to admit.

The book's cover is misleading; this isn't a light read about a summer romance. Dessen's novels have been turned into successful teen films (How to Deal, 2003) and her readers admire her ability to get into the mind of her characters and express the anxiety and turmoil that many parents dismiss or misunderstand completely.

YALSA Teens' Top Ten & Teen Read Week

The Young Adult Library Services Association will announce its Teens' Top Ten list soon. Teens can vote online from August 24 through September 18 at for their favorite books of the past year. The winners of the 2009 Teens' Top Ten will be announced in a webcast featuring WWE Superstars and Divas during Teen Read Week, Oct. 18-24. Tell your book group, youth organizations you work with, and any other teen groups you know to visit between August 24 and September 18 and vote. The more teens who participate, the more accurately the winning list will reflect the reading tastes of teens all over the country!

This year's nominating committee is made up of members of teen book groups in fifteen schools and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Readers ages twelve to eighteen can vote online anytime between Aug. 24 and Sept. 18; the winners will be announced in a webcast featuring WWE Superstars and Divas during Teen Read Week.

1 comment:

  1. I have just release my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld."
    I would love to get a review from you on the book. The book has been listed on and Barnes&

    Synopsis: On their way home from baseball tryouts, Brad Colby and his two sons are involved in a terrible car accident that leaves six-year-old Pete in a coma. When Pete awakens, the family is crushed to learn that he is paralyzed. Meanwhile, Pete’s eight-year-old brother, Jason, has been having powerful dreams that lead him to a mysterious realm known as DreamWorld. Jason discovers that all of his desires can come true in DreamWorld, but the time is fast approaching when he will have to choose between his two worlds. And when more devastating news strikes at the heart of the Colby family, Jason and Pete set out on a desperate attempt to find the Gateway to DreamWorld and save their family. With time running out on their dangerous path, will Jason and Pete’s fear of the Unknown keep them from reaching the paradise of their dreams? Brenda