Depth in Both Readers and Books
YA Fiction from March/April
The word “teenager” came into use in the 1920s. Before then, you were either a child or an adult; no term to describe the time in your life when everything was changing. Now, we recognize the stage as its own category. Teenagers and young adults may not necessarily be ready for careers or families, but they’re still living with major events and challenges. Teen years are still a time of power and depth, as these six young adult fiction books, reviewed in our March/April issue, show.
Rowman & Littlefield
Hardcover $45.00 (216pp)
This important teen guide performs two crucial functions: educating teens on numerous myths associated with sexual assault, and showing teens how to help both themselves and their friends. Given that teens are, according to the author, more likely to confide about these assaults to their friends rather than to an adult, Sexual Assault: The Ultimate Teen Guide provides essential guidance for the all-too-many teens who have to confront these issues.
The book is broken down into a few different sections, the first one defining sexual assault before the other sections delve into its different types, from date rape to child abuse. The book then goes on to describe the healing process, along with how friends and family can help survivors, before concluding with a list of resources such as websites, books, and films that deal with the topic of sexual assault. It also includes a glossary of key terms. Throughout, the work touches on key issues such as victim blaming and human trafficking, weaving in both statistics and stories drawn from the author’s forty-plus interviews with sexual-assault survivors.
The book includes some surprising and illuminating facts: for instance, Ghafoerkhan notes that of the forty survivors she interviewed, only four were assaulted by strangers, which is consistent with nationwide statistics on sexual assault. In addition, less than a third of rapes are reported to police. Though the stories are not overly graphic, they may be disturbing to younger audiences.
Ghafoerkhan emphasizes the need of more conversation about sexual assault, both to help reduce the stigma around it and to create a space where more people feel empowered to discuss their experiences. This essential resource is thought-provoking and humbling, and it is ideal for teen allies—including parents, educators, and mentors—who want to understand how they can help.
Softcover $12.99 (384pp)
Twins Sean and Dillon Kirrell, age seventeen, have an unusual hobby: drawing a strange, otherworldly train station that came to them in a vision ten years ago. Soon a mysterious man named Carver appears, telling the Kirrell brothers that they are transitors, or people who have the ability to travel instantly to different places in the universe. Though normally Carver and his associates recruit transitors at a much younger age, he says they’re willing to make an exception, given the rarity of finding transitor twins. The catch? If the boys don’t prove themselves within thirty days, their memories will be wiped, and they’ll have no recollection of the extraordinary events that befall them.
Given that most tropes tend towards characters who are uncharacteristically young for their age and mission, Recruits is refreshing in that it features two protagonists who have nearly aged out by seventeen. No longer prodigies, their uniqueness comes from their relationship to one another, a relationship that is tested as the brothers struggle to find their footing in the strange new world that is soon thrust upon them. From there, Locke weaves a rich, complex world filled with different ranks, politics, schools, and powers, and the boys must learn how much they can trust those around them—and each other.
Recruits is a young-adult adventure novel filled with relentless action. While the initial motivation of the boys to involve themselves in intergalactic conflict seems weak at first, the relationship between the brothers adds an unusual tenderness to their journey. Recruits is an accessible, clean science fiction novel ideal for those looking for titles with heart, thoughtfulness, and family values.
Second Story Press
Softcover $12.95 (348pp)
After her mother’s death, Cat decides to defer her admission to Stanford and flee her grief by joining (the amusingly named) Students Without Boundaries and traveling to Calantes, a South American country that has just experienced a civil war. While Cat grows close to a local boy, Rafael, who is dealing with his own grief and ambitions, she also meets others like her who have fled their lives in order to try to find some mix of redemption and achievement.
Written in the first person, Undiscovered Country features a voice that is strong, sharp, and smart. The book alternates between two sections, “Before” and “After,” with “Before” showing glimpses of Cat’s life during her mother’s battle with cancer, and “After” showing Cat’s new adventure in Calantes. While the switches occasionally slow down the pace of the book, they do offer a deeper look into Cat’s relationships and help give life to the grief she is experiencing.
The existence of a student group in a war-torn country—a group that attracts the sort of privileged youth seen in the novel—seems dubious, but the novel builds up to an intriguing moral dilemma. Cat’s own grief mixes with her sense of right and wrong, and what results is a compelling story where Cat must pick apart romantic feelings, ethical obligations, and even her own sanity in order to arrive at a crucial decision.
Undiscovered Country is first and foremost a novel about grief and new beginnings, but it is also a thoughtful coming-of-age tale about finding purpose even in the midst of despair.
C. L. Lynch
One Tall Tree Press
Softcover $16.99 (372pp)
When Stella Blunt arrives at a new school, her abrasive and straight-shooting personality doesn’t make her many new friends—with the exception of Howard “Howie” Mullins, a sweet, shy boy in her Chemistry class who also happens to be a zombie.
The book is described as a “feminist response to Twilight,” which is reflected in many key details of the book: Stella Blunt is loud and large, rather than quiet and wispy, and when bloodthirsty zombies start showing up, Stella doesn’t hide behind her undead crush, but instead joins the fray with gusto and a chainsaw. Echoes of Twilight can also be found in more subtle ways throughout the book, such as in Stella’s reluctant move to a cloudy, Pacific Northwest locale, and in Howard’s intense (but much less creepy) stare at Stella when he sees her in class. Even the final dance scene is reminiscent of Twilight’s conclusion.
Chemistry is funny and irreverent, and it doesn’t shy away from explicit language or gore. Given the humor and tone of the book, it occasionally reads less like a feminist response to Twilight and more like a parody of it—Stella is loud, abrasive, and eager to fight her own battles, but she comes with little nuance and sometimes seems like a caricature of a strong heroine. However, she’s also entertaining, engaging, and even vulnerable. On the other hand, Howie is uncomfortably compliant with Stella, even stepping in front of a moving car to please her—possibly a comment on the extreme personalities of many characters in young-adult romances, but a choice that makes it difficult to like or respect Howie in the same way.
Chemistry is a fun, clever novel that provides a welcome contrast to the more traditional young-adult romances of the genre, even while drawing on their warmth and familiarity.
Kelly Jensen, editor
Algonquin Young Readers
Softcover $16.95 (240pp)
In a book that includes contributors such as Mindy Kaling and Roxane Gay, Here We Are is a compilation of pieces that analyze what it means to be a modern feminist. Part essay collection, part social commentary, and part educational guide, the book is accessible and easy to read, and the writers approach the topic of feminism with humor, levity, and thoughtfulness—and a message of inclusiveness for the movement.
The book opens with a few essays on feminism—including one by Roxane Gay, called “Bad Feminism: Take Two”—and goes on to feature poems, FAQs, and other sections that all give the book an engaging, playful quality. Essays include personal anecdotes and social commentary on a number of issues that range from body image to careers. They’re interspersed with comic strips and lists such as “Ten Amazing Scientists (Who Also Happen to Be Women)” that break up the text and give it an almost magazine-like quality.
The voices in the collection come from a variety of careers, races, gender orientations, and ideologies that lend richness to Here We Are and demonstrate the depth of the feminist movement. In one piece, an interview with Laverne Cox—an actress and the first trans person to be on the cover of Time—reveals Cox’s own fears about the connection between stigma and violence, providing food for thought on how misgendering affects the trans community. In another piece, Mindy Kaling offers advice to “not peak in high school,” reminding readers that plenty of successful adults started off as overlooked teenagers who spent lots of (valuable) time with their families.
Here We Are is an excellent work that makes the topic of feminism approachable and engaging in its mixed-content format. The essays, all diverse and relatively short, are interspersed with poetry, comics, and facts that provide a full, rich picture of feminism.
Red Deer Press
Softcover $12.95 (220pp)
This free-verse novel begins with Hunter’s death: after a bicycle accident, Hunter finds himself in another world. He is greeted by a man named Archie, who explains what has happened and how Hunter is now “home.” From there, Hunter encounters a young woman named Trinity, a girl whom Archie warns him he must protect. The task grows increasingly complicated when Trinity and Hunter are returned to Earth. From there, Hunter must deal with his confused memories, his newfound ability to see auras, and his desperate but muddled sense that he must do something to save Trinity before her time runs out.
The free-verse form of the novel gives the whole work a dreamlike quality, and the story is compelling and sweet. Dialogue is set off with indentations rather than quotation marks, a construct that is easy to follow. Just enough hints are given about the nature of reality, and Heaven, and Earth, that the gaps in logic seem to be something out of our understanding rather than errors in execution. For example, Archie’s role as semi-mentor is mentioned but not fully explained. Even Archie doesn’t seem to fully understand his position, as he offers half-answers and half-truths for the entire story, never completely justifying his existence in his own world. The novel then hurtles toward a riddled close that, with its back-and-forth nature, seems to take away some of the power of the earlier stakes. However, the story remains compelling to the end.
In Closing Down Heaven, neither Heaven nor Earth plays by the rules—and what results is a poetical look at life, death, fate, and choices. The short length of the novel means that many of these questions go unanswered; thus the story offers a way into a discussion of such questions, rather than any pat conclusions.