Monday, June 3, 2013

Incredible, Forgettable, Preventable: the YA Edition

Lately, I've had plenty of time for reading and things have definitely taken a YA slant. So: Another round of mini book reviews!

Being by Kevin Brooks

Verdict: Forgettable

Robert thinks he's just another teenage boy growing up in Essex, England, but a routine medical procedure gone horribly wrong throws all his ideas about who (or, more aptly, what) he is out the window. Cut open on a hospital operating table, the doctors and the men with guns who soon join them, look into Robert and can't figure out what they are seeing. Obvs, this freak Robert out and he goes on the run - as one does.

Cars are stolen, people are killed, Robert is hunted down by a powerful agency/secret society and this enemy could be anywhere. In between the fake IDs and kidnapping, Robert finds time to explore and nurture a first love with a pretty, kick-ass young lady - as one does.

Besides an anti-climatic ending, there wasn't actually anything wrong with Being. I was entertained, I enjoyed the rambling musings on what makes a person a person and what a 'being' might actually be and I'm a huge fan of Kevin Brooks because, well, Black Rabbit Summer. However, I was taken on a wild adventure where I ended up in much the same place where I started and for that, I'm afraid I'd forgotten Being as soon as I finished the last page.

Becoming Chloe by Katherine Ryan Hyde

Verdict: Incredible

Meet Jordy. He’s on his own in New York City. Nobody to depend on; nobody depending on him. And it’s been working fine.

Until this girl comes along. She’s 18 and blond and pretty: her world should be perfect. But she’s seen things no one should ever see in their whole life–the kind of things that break a person. She doesn’t seem broken, though. She seems... innocent. Like she doesn’t know a whole lot. Only sometimes she does.

The one thing she knows for sure is that the world is an ugly place. Now her life may depend on Jordy proving her wrong. So they hit the road to discover the truth–and there’s no going back from what they find out.
This deeply felt, redemptive novel reveals both the dark corners and hidden joys of life’s journey – and the remarkable resilience of the human soul.

This was such a lovely, hopeful book. It starts off ridiculously heavy and you just want to hug every one of the characters and take them home because they are too young to have such ├╝ber-sucky lives. But the thing is they may be young but they are hella resilient. Wrong-side-of-tracks Jordy finds purpose and direction in taking care of mysterious-but-definitely-bad-past Chloe. Together, each of them finally has someone to protect and look out for them. They encounter with a wide array of weird and oft not-so wonderful people including shop owners abusing their power, drug dealers trying to get lucky, doctors who heal not hurt, jerks who text and drive, old men and good dogs.

It's a feel-good kind of book. Not in a pathetic, placating way. It tackles tough issues unflinchingly, it does not spare the rod. But - when Jordy is trying to show Chloe that this world isn't always the ugly place she knows and that life and places and people can be beautiful too, you want to see it too and, by the end, you kind of do.

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Verdict: Incredible

Your dad finding you in the backseat of your older brother's best friend's car sans clothes is at best awks and at worst, well, end of life as you knew it. For Deanna Lambert it's definitely the latter. Sleeping with one 17 year old boy when she was 13 and didn't know anything about anything has given her a lasting reputation as the school slut and her father can still only barely look at her three years later. One mistake from her past defines her present and fuels her dreams to escape to somewhere where that night in the back of Tommy's car never happened.

The best kind of YA books are those that remind me of being a teenager but add some texture of my memories or some richness to my understanding of my 25 year old self. Story of a Girl is that kind of book. It has all the cringeworthiness, the high school politics, the family warfare, the angst, regret and twisty teenage logic you could ever want from contemporary teen fiction. It's also thoughtful, subtle and complex. Bonus points: there is no time for Twilight-style insta-love or HG-esque love triangles in the story. Yes, Deanna has a love interest. Yes, he has a girlfriend. But it's even more messy, and uncomfortable than it sounds and not for the reasons one might expect.

I loved the idea that one youthful indiscretion could echo into the future so loudly. People seem to have this idea that the things that happen when you are young can always be overcome, that they don't need to define you, that making mistakes is what you are meant to do in your teens and, don't worry, all will be forgiven. But it's not really, isn't it? And I loved that this book took on those ideas and let them play out for a young woman who was 16 going on 35 which was pretty much what I was like at her age - minus the car/slut situation.

This could easily have become a bitch and moan session. Deanna's angst could have been overblown for effect: I felt that this was one of the problems with another Zarr novel, Sweethearts, to be fair. Deanna could have ended up with some predictable choice between two good-looking but very different boys, her heart not knowing who to choose until just the right moment, the drama in the car forgotten because YA love fixes everything. Sara Zarr didn't let any of that happen. I was truly grateful and this book went straight into my top 10 YA list.

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