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Tag Archives: YA fiction

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Most people under thirty (and many people over thirty) are edgy these days; our soft, organic, human curves honed to sharpness by the razor edges of technology. Our minds are edgy, as television and movies are edgy – jumping from thought to thought, chore to chore, channel to channel. Rainbow Rowell is edgy, too, and so is her writing. Rowell manages to skim along that razor with skill, keeping pace with the new way we think. Her writing seems effortless. Her fiction is fresh, exciting, and fun, along with being edgy. It’s also very, very real.

Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffen, 2013)is a fairly straightforward story – twin sisters go to college. Each of them finds their own way. They have boyfriends, make new friends, work hard, make mistakes, etc. The rub comes as the sister’s co-dependent relationship crumbles. Cath, the painfully shy main character, is stretched to her limit as her sister Wren abandons her for her new friends. Cath buries herself in the world of fiction, particularly the fictional world of Simon Snow: reading it, writing fan fiction, and using it as an escape mechanism. Rowell weaves Cath’s story together with the fictional story of Simon Snow, and then throws in snippets of the fan fiction that Cath writes as well. Taken together, it’s a kaleidoscope of a story, a hall of mirrors in which one plot line is mirrored in another story, and again in another, distorted a bit each time. All of this is sewed together so seamlessly, it’s hard to see the skill involved in making this story sing.

But sing it does. Rainbow Rowell is writing great fiction, with great characters, great plot, and a sincere message. Somehow, she gets it just right. The characters shine as individuals; none of them perfect, all of them human and recognizable as facets of ourselves. There is enough movement to sweep you along, enough jumping to keep you tensed and ready to spring, enough humanity to grab hold of your compassion and tug you away from your own world into that of the characters.

If you are a fan of John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely enjoy anything written by Rainbow Rowell – they have similar messages and writing styles, and they use unconventional and powerful tools in their story telling that makes them interesting to read for people who have grown up in the digital age.

Rainbow Rowell succeeded in making Eleanor & Park one of the best written YA novels of 2013 (see my review here), and she succeeds again with Fangirl. I recommend it for anyone fourteen and up.

 
 

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The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares

The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares

You know how a great book sucks you under and keeps you there for hours and you come up sputtering and breathless, wondering where you are? Ann Brashares’ new book, The Here and Now (Delacourt Press, April 2014) is not like that. It is an interesting premise and a fast read, but I skimmed through it. At 256 pages, I couldn’t really dive any deeper.

The Here and Now is a tale of time travel. A faction of people from a harrowing ‘future earth’ come back and colonize the present in order to escape the horrible conditions of the future. They follow strict rules to keep from being discovered: they keep to themselves, avoid ‘intimate’ contact with others, try to fit in as best they can. These rules are enforced (sometimes violently) by the leaders of the group of travelers. Prenna, our teenage protagonist, falls in love with Ethan, a ‘time native’, and the two of them start to unravel the precarious chain of events that lead to the dystopian future Prenna has escaped.

It’s a great plot, if only marginally developed. I was with Brashares the whole way, but it was also flat and lifeless. There was no meat on the bones; no flesh on the characters. They remained cardboard cutouts, manipulated around the plot. Ironically, there was no past or background given for any of the characters, particularly Ethan, the ‘time native’. With no motives and no glimpse into the psyche of the characters, it was awfully hard to become emotionally involved and, at times, to understand the cause and effect of events.

This book could have been great, another Divergent or Hunger Games for YA readers. Instead, it feels rushed and undeveloped. I got something out of it, but it wasn’t the experience I was hoping for. I haven’t read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, the immensely popular YA books by Brashares, but The Here and Now falls short of its potential, despite its great concept and gripping plot. If I could go back in time, I’d advise Brashares to slow down; give us the time to immerse ourselves in this world she has created. But we need the whole world, not just the plot.

 
 

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Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas

Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas

 

I don’t read a lot of Young Adult fiction, but it’s not hard to see why 55% of the people in the U.S. who buy YA books are over 18 years of age:  today’s YA authors have capitalized on a growing thirst in our society for heroes and quests.  Everyone wants to experience, at least once, what it feels like to be important and powerful in this huge, homogeneous world.  At least, that’s part of the appeal, especially for the adults who are trapped in the mundane.  You don’t have to be a fan of fantasy or dystopian fiction to enjoy great YA writing, though.  Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas, is YA fiction at its most impactful.  There is no magic.  There are no vampires.  This book deals directly with the real life stuff of growing up: love, sex, drugs, parents, and school.  And when I say ‘directly’, I mean it. So don’t offer it to your middle-schooler unless you’ve read it first.

Thomas’s premise is this: Steve York, a National Merit Finalist and very smart guy, is caught (again) coming to school stoned.  An astute guidance counselor makes a deal with him:  if Steve will write him a 100 page paper – on any subject – by the end of the school year, he can avoid remedial summer school and graduate with his class.  Steve takes up the challenge reluctantly, but it doesn’t take him long to realize that he does have a story to tell.  The book quickly becomes an interplay between the present narrative and the ‘story within the story’ of how Steve started down the road of drugs and alcohol. It is the act of writing the story that allows Steve to come to terms with the events that changed his life and find some measure of healing.

Thomas does a great job of writing in the voice of a seventeen year old boy without dumbing down the novel.  His protagonist is sharp, witty, and honest.  (Reading a sex scene written in the voice of a teenager was a refreshing change from the slick, racy writing an adult might try for.)  Rats Saw God, published in 1996, is a bit dated, but I found that to be charming.  Steve York’s generation, like mine, was sent reeling by the death of Kurt Cobain, spent a lot of time figuring out how to get tickets to Pearl Jam’s next concert, and generally made a mess out of dating and sex.  This isn’t the meatiest book in the world, but it is a true one.  It’s worth reading just for its great structure, its honesty, and its nerve, but be prepared for a healthy blast of nostalgia.  You may not remember much from the year 1994, but if you read Rats Saw God, by Rob Thomas, I’m betting it all comes back to you pretty quickly.

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Fiction, Young Adult

 

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