Tuesday, September 9, 2008

YA Lit Week 4

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
In the summer between 8th grade and freshman year, Melinda goes to a house party where something happens and she calls the police, who break up the party and make several arrests. As a result of her call, Melinda has become a complete social outcast. As the year goes on, Melinda becomes more and more silent and withdrawn, and her life becomes smaller and more circumscribed as her grades plummet. Melinda doesn't tell anyone what happened to her, and as the book goes along, it comes to light that Melinda was raped at the party. Only when her former best friend becomes involved with the boy who attacked her does Melinda find the courage to speak. This book reminded me so strongly of Are You in the House Alone by Richard Peck, a book I read more than once as a teen. Probably mainly due to the similar topic - a popular boy rapes a girl who is more of an outsider - than to any real thematic or genre similarities. Sadly, I think we still live in a world where a high school girl might be encouraged not to voice her accusations and where peers might be more likely to view her accusations as hyperbole, or regret about what she participated in willingly, than in Anderson's world. I guess Anderson resolves this by revealing that the perpetrator (Andy) turns out to have a widespread reputation for trying to move in on many girls, and by having him caught "red handed" trying to attack Melinda again. I think teens would really get caught up in this book, and not be critical of it like I was, nor would they guess as early as I did what happened at the party. I also think many teens will absorb the message (you must stand up and speak when things happen) without feeling preached at. I would give this book to teens from about freshman year on up, maybe 8th grade and up.

Doing It by Melvin Burgess
My local library withdrew this controversial book, but hooray for Joyce who runs the YA department at the library I work at - she still has it on her shelves. This is the story of 3 teenaged boys as they obsess about doing it, and sometimes actually get to do it. Dino is the best looking, most popular boy in school, and he wants to date - and do it - with Jackie. But Dino and Jackie are toxic for each other, and their lives become increasingly more complicated as they dance around each other never quite consumating their relationship. Meanwhile, Jon really likes Deborah who is smart, funny, level headed, and really quite attractive to him... but... how does he ever live down dating the school's fat girl? And Ben, well he's living every boy's fantasy, having an affair with Alison, the drama teacher at school. But pretty soon Ben learns that Alison isn't just accomplished at drama in school, and that having your fantasy fulfilled can sometimes become a nightmare. I think the sex in this book is MUCH more frequent than your average teenaged boy really engages in, but that didn't make me feel offended or bad about the book. I DO think teenaged boys are thinking about DOING IT quite a bit of the time, and I think this funny book, while it might sometimes make your average teen boy feel like he's not getting nearly as much as others, will make him realize that thinking about it constantly is pretty normal. I really like the characters, both boy and girl. What this book most reminded me of is Nick Hornby - "lad lit" that is really much better than 99% of lad lit with a real emphasis on the humanity and underlying decentness of most if not all of the characters. Not sure who I'd give it to, though...

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
Keir Sarafian is a bit of a football hero at school, particularly when he is cleared of all blame in an accident on the field - a "clean hit" - that leaves an opposing player crippled. Kier lives a bachelor existence with his widowed father now that his two older sisters have gone to college, and both looks forward to and dreads leaving his father alone when he takes his football scholarship at the college where his sisters are going to school. Told in alternate chapters set in the present and the past, we watch as Kier goes increasingly out of control over the course of his senior year and refuses to accept any responsibility for his own increasingly violent and destructive acts. As the book ends, Kier is forced to see his own culpability in the date rape of a peer. I didn't like or dislike this book. It felt more like an "issue" book than any of the others I've read to date, written with a clear agenda to appeal to a particular type of reader. Again, I'm not sure who I would give this book to... I don't feel knowledgeable enough about the target audience to understand who it woudl appeal to. It will be interesting to hear what is said in class about this.

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