Wednesday, August 02, 2006

YA Lit Wednesday: My Random Liberry Picks

There's this system, see, that I employ when choosing books at the biblioteca. First I look at the displayed books in the central area, where they have some "featured titles" and some newer books. I move on to the Burnham-Hoyt room (pretty much all the fiction, plus magazines, books on tape, and VHS), pore through the new books and peek at the trucks of books to be reshelved. If I have a particular title in mind, I'll seek it out (or do some research to find it). There's always a display table when you walk into the BH room with whatever the weekly or monthly picks of the staff that fit into a particular category might be. A few weeks ago it was chick lit/beach reads, and sometimes it's political books or cookbooks or pirate books or whatever. Last foray, it was YA books, none of which I'd ever heard of (hadn't even heard of any of the authors, 'smatter of fact).

So, it was the perfect opportunity for me to find some new blood. I've been out of the loop on non sci-fi or fantasy YA titles for at least 10 years, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Anyhow, I perused the table. Most of the stuff sounded boring, insipid, or derivative, but I did find two books that looked interesting and took them home.

Book 1: Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Starting off slow and sounding like any other "I woke up one day to find that X impossible premise had happened!" story, this one delves further and made me care more about the main character, Bobby, than I expected I would. Sure, he wakes up one morning to discover he's invisible. Sure, this is easy for tweens and young teens to identify with (who doesn't know what it feels like to be invisible at age 12 or 13?). But it's not cheesy and is much more genuine and matter-of-fact. The kid actually tells his parents, and as a family they work together to figure out the cause, figure out a solution, and to keep Bobby's parents from being arrested for child neglect or endangerment or whatever, since Bobby obviously isn't in school and there are only so many excuses to be made when a kid just disappears one day.

The novel deals with the real life problems that might stem from sudden invisibility, and even delves into the life of another invisible and the choices she made to cope with her situation. Bobby is invisible, but his clothing isn't - so he can either bundle up beyond recognition or go nekkid. Instead of being an empowerment fantasy, as it so easily could have been, the author explores Bobby's experiences in asserting his own independence from his parents while still depending on them for the things a 15-year-old still needs his parents for, invisible or no.

My favorite part of the story is Bobby's accidental friendship with Alicia, a blind girl he meets at the library soon after he becomes invisible. She helps him feel like a person during the time he feels he'll never be seen/acknowledged again. And the relationship between these characters is believable, interesting, and again, not just some empowerment fantasy. Bobby's problem has a solution and Alicia's doesn't, but that doesn't stop them from being friends.

Some of the machinations of the book are a little too pat, though maybe it's just my adult sensibilities showing. I mean, Bobby's dad is some kind of theoretical engineer, and Alicia's dad is a physics professor or something, so Bobby just so happens to have the exact right people available to help him figure out what caused his invisibility. The symbolism is more heavy-handed than I'd like, but then again, the audience for the book is ages 10-14, not 27. Overall, I give it a favorable review.

Book 2: Crushed by Laura and Tom McNeal

I really wanted to like this book. It was written in an interesting style, the pacing was good, and some of the characters made me ache for them in the crappy situations they found themselves. But nobody was what they really seemed, and the plot was incredibly contrived. Maybe it's because I grew up in a small town and went to a high school where nobody came from higher than a middle-class background - but since when are so many teenagers so conniving and manipulative for the sake of someone's family money?

The three main characters, Audrey (rich girl, no mom, dad bets big and loses and they go from a mansion to an apartment), Wickham (product of adultery, rich bio dad weaning them off his money, smooth-talking and charismatic), and Clyde (painfully shy, mom dying, loner) all had positives and negatives. The authors did a great job with some of the characters' development; however, these three and their supporting cast at times did and said things that NO 16 or 17 YEAR OLD WOULD DO OR SAY. I mean, it was like watching a weirdly updated version of the non-John Hughes 80s high school movies. In one sense, the book is a series of triangles, both love and situational. In another sense, it's a hammy soap opera. And my favorite characters never got to be more than bit players in the Audrey/Wickham/Clyde tangle.

I think the authors tried to do too many things with this book. An argument could be made for the protagonist (or antagonist, I guess) not being a character but the "yellow journalism" gossip rag that comes out anonymously from time to time. Things get stirred up each time this paper appears, and new triangles form. In a way, I think the authors were trying to really make Audrey believable, in LURVE with Wickham and planning her life and future around him, despite their being juniors in high school. I know there are girls at that age that are in love with the idea of love and take the teenage blinders to the world around them to extremes. But seriously. When Audrey's best friend snatches her relationship out from under her and completely changes personality 2/3 of the way through the book, I thought to myself, "Are these characters supposed to be teenagers or terrible soap opera stars?" I couldn't suspend disbelief despite how much I liked certain aspects of the book, and I couldn't help but think that if they had just focused on 2 or 3 subplots instead of 6 or 7, the quality of the book would have been much higher. I appreciate what they tried to do, but would have enjoyed reading it much more had they actually succeeded.

1 comment:

Yank In Texas said...

That so sounds like my method in libraries or bookstores. Though in bookstores I usually start at the bargain section and work from there. I'm all for discounted books.
*new house is much closer to library yay!*