My book report for December is over four great Young Adult novels.
Babe in Boyland by Jody Gehrman – Natalie is Dr. Aphrodite, the love guru of the school paper. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much first-hand knowledge of love and her column is turning into a joke. The boys in her school won’t give her a straight answer about anything, so her solution is to disguise herself as a guy and spend a week at Underwood Academy, an up-scale private boys boarding school.
This is a riff on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and could be likened to another take-off on that theme, “She’s the Man.” Just as Viola does in both of those stories, Natalie ends up learning a lot more than she thought she would about guys and girls and how they feel about love, while falling in love with her boarding school roommate. Shakespeare wrote his comedy in 1601, which was revamped as the movie in 2003. Jody Gehrman’s book came out in 2011. Just goes to show what a great story-teller Shakespeare was.
Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo – This 2014 YA novel was a VOYA Perfect Tens Pick, an Indies Introduces New Voices Pick, and Best YA Debut of the Year on Bustle.com. Leigh’s father is a would-be real estate speculator who buys a cemetery and moves his artist wife and the chronically depressed teenage curmudgeon Leigh away from the ocean they both love. Leigh longs for her impish best friend and the confidences they shared. To make matters worse, Leigh’s mother keeps disappearing to go back and paint at the beach, her father runs around wheeling and dealing with everything but the business, and both leave her running the cemetery office. Unfortunately, she rarely gets anyone who is interested in buying pre-need. So on a daily basis this emotionally frozen teenager must deal with people in crisis and overcome by tragedy. She hates her life, her parents, and just about everything. Gradually, we learn this is tied directly to a mystery involving her best friend.
The young Hispanic grave-digger, Dario, that comes into her life teaches her a great deal about his philosophy of life, how to love (he’s saving to bring his fiancé to this country) and how to serve people in their darkest moment. When the time comes, she finds “the courage to fight for him and save herself along the way.”
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (illustrated by Ellen Forney) – Among the many awards this book won in 2007 were the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, Book Sense #1 Pick, NYPL Book for Teens, New York Times Bestseller, Kirkus Review Best YA Book of the Year, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, Best Book of the Year for both American Library Association and the New York Public Library. It was also the most widely banned book that year.
This book is about being an Indian (or Native American if you are trying to be politically correct, which Alexie is not) living on a reservation, where he absolutely does not fit in. Junior is an aspiring cartoonist with an assortment of physical and health issues. He has grown up being picked on by everyone except his best friend and defender. But when he makes the decision to find a way to go to the all-white school in a neighboring farm town, he becomes an outsider not only at his new school but a pariah on the reservation and his former best friend becomes his sworn enemy. This is a true-life story of overcoming adversity, finding your own path to your best self, and learning to reconcile that with your family and your culture.
eleanor & park by Rainbow Rowell – This 2013 novel was a Printz Award-winning book. This story also deals with a girl dealing with her parent’s bad decisions and living through terrible harassment and isolation. Eleanor has moved to a new town with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend, and their blended family. The stepfather is a jerk and treats her alternately as a trouble-maker and a possible object of his scorn and lust. She affects a bizarre mode of dress that marks her as a kind of out-there eccentric, but it is because her mother barely has enough money to feed the kids and nothing left over for her school clothes.
Bullied on her first day on the bus, she meets Park who begrudgingly allows her to share his seat. His mother is a savvy and successful Korean hairdresser who is always pushing him to excel. At school he manages to stay on the good side of the popular sharks that roam the hallways while doing his own thing, but he still falls victim to all the usual pre-conceived notions about Asians and mixed-race kids. Eleanor and Park share advanced placement classes and start to become friends and to explore their attraction. His family is different but ‘normal’ by almost any standard. She is gradually integrated into a core loving family who understands part of her family life and accepts her.
Just as they are becoming comfortable with being a couple and in love, her stepfather becomes more violent and threatening. As her living situation reaches critical mass, she plans to run away to her uncle in Minnesota. Park, the most careful driver in the world, offers to drive her—to give her up in order to save her. His father discovers the plan and insists that he take his Dad’s truck. Eleanor insists that he leave her on the doorstep because she doesn’t think she can say goodbye. Her uncle and aunt listen to her horror stories and intervene to rescue Eleanor’s mom and siblings as well.
Park writes to her every day. When she never responds, he stops mailing the letters. Eleanor suffers in her self-imposed silence until finally she writes him a single postcard with the three words he always wanted her to say.
Remember, books are great gifts and can make indelible memories.