Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Light

What Light by Jay Asher

At sixteen, Sierra is looking forward to spending Christmas in California again.  Her parents own a Christmas tree farm in Oregon, and every year before Thanksgiving, they follow the trees to LA to sell the trees on their lot.  She loves Oregon and her two best friends there, but also loves California and her best friend there.  Unfortunately, she knows this might be the last year: independent tree lots are becoming fewer, and the business might go bust.

Then she meets Caleb, a boy with a past filled with rumors and a very violent incident.

This feel-good Christmas story is just right for a Hallmark special.  Sierra’s own parents met at sixteen on this same tree lot.  Can’t Sierra have a happy-ever-after romance too?  Evidently she can.  And it IS Christmas.

Missing from the story is all the pith and conversation you experienced with Thirteen Reasons Why, for example.  There is little conflict.  When Sierra’s parents find out about Caleb’s past, they allow her to decide that he is not really a violent character.  The violent incident included a knife he pounded into his sister’s bedroom door.  The “trust” issue should skid to a halt with violence when it comes to parents dealing with sixteen-year-old dating.  Caleb never receives counseling, never is violent toward anyone again; in fact, he philosophically accepts all the abuse his friends and family heap on him.  But again, it’s Christmas.  The Light shines.

Sierra’s friends in Oregon want her home for a drama production where one of her best friends is suddenly the star.  “Just take a train,” they indicate.  While it doesn’t say where in California Sierra is, the northernmost city, Redding, (where there are lots of trees….) is over 19 hours to Portland.  Not very realistic, and causes a huge rift when Sierra decides not to go.

It is tough to recommend this book because of the possible dating violence when Caleb has never received any help, “Christmas season” and “redemption” aside.

Suffer Love

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake

Told from the point of view of two teens, Hadley and Sam, in alternating chapters, we learn of two dysfunctional families.  Hadley’s parents are trying to piece their marriage back together after her father’s affair.  Sam has just moved into town with his mom and sister after mom’s affair.  Seems like a match.  Except that it was Sam’s mother who had the affair with Hadley’s father. 

While the teens’ struggles with their families is painful, it is also unreal.  This is the usual “teens are more mature than their dysfunctional parents” novel.  Not diminishing the stress the teens feel within their relationship, it is a titch unrealistic.  Sam and his sister know the truth of Hadley’s father and their mother, but Hadley does not.  In fact, Hadley deals with her father’s mess by drinking to get drunk, and going to bed with anyone who crooks their finger.  She treats Sam awfully just to keep him from getting too close. 

Throughout the novel, we wait for the “big reveal” and its aftermath.  Will the teens’ relationship survive?  The tension in the novel is the hook, and it works.

Peppered with Shakespeare references throughout lending an interesting quality to the novel.  But first, you have to buy into the premise.  Or not.  Teens will grab the story and not bother about the implausible story line.

Recommended for ages 14 and up

Totally Awkward Love Story

Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Hannah and Sam meet in the bathroom of a party after exams in this British comedy. Each feels a connection, but need to leave before learning the other's name.  She goes off to lose her virginity, and he becomes “Toilet Boy," because that is where they met.   

Throughout the rest of the book, they keep finding and losing each other through lies, missed communication, and just plain stupidity. Each chapter was written alternatively by two separate authors, whose real-life story this was originally. In fact, it reads as if there are two separate diaries. Who wants to read their high school diary?  

Sam's first sexual encounter/explosion is really funny.   There are many raunchy jokes and a lot of swearing.  When these silly romantic kids finally get together, their their own first sexual encounter is cringe-worthy. There are relationship problems, ego problems, self-esteem problems, and of course, clueless parents.

The plot device using two authors has been done well elsewhere, but not here.  Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohen and David Levithan) was a better story with superior writing. 

This could have been a good story with cute subplots. Instead there is no character development for any of the teens, and subplots, while cute, add nothing to extend the story line. The continual use of the word "literally" will grate on your nerves.  It is literally a book teens will find funny, read the "naughty bits" to each other, and forget.  

For readers 10th grade and older.

Still Life with Tornado

Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King

At sixteen, Sarah has lost her ability to create artwork.  Her best friend Carmen is drawing tornadoes.  She tells Sarah that it is not a picture of the tornado itself, but of everything it scoops up and carries inside.  This metaphor for Sarah’s life allows us to see the chaos more clearly.  Sarah’s older brother has moved away and is no longer speaking to anyone in the family.  She would like to reach out to him, but cannot.  She refuses to go to school, and wanders the streets of Philadelphia, meets a homeless man, goes to an abandoned school- and then meets her ten-year-old self, her twenty-three-year-old self, and her forty-year-old self. 

This is more than a little confusing for the reader. Is Sarah crazy?  

Certainly she thinks she is.   Does she need a psychologist?  Should we just quit reading and toss the book as silly?  All of the Sarahs have information that Sarah needs to move on with her life.  Especially ten-year-old Sarah, who helps Sarah remember what happened before her brother left.  Then her mother also meets and talks to ten-year-old Sarah while Sarah is present. 

Somehow it just works:  all the Sarahs become magic that everyone simply accepts.  The plot device has been used before, and we accept it too, though.  We know Sarah has been lying to herself and want to see her pull through.   Sarah is a complex character, as is her mother, when King allows her into the plot.  If you can’t accept the magic, you probably won’t like the book.  For the rest of us, the story IS the tornado, and the characters worth the read.  This is a book that will make you think.

Recommended 13 up