Monday, September 17, 2012

YA Reading, Round 2: Contemporary

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This week's theme in my YA Lit class was contemporary life, with subjects like coming-of-age, identity, relationships, and so on and so on. It was quite a departure from last week's classic YA novels, and it's pretty amazing just how many types of stories are available to the YA audience. The three books I read were each very different in plot and theme and appropriate for very different audiences. They each contained a story that would resonate with its audience, though—stories that would hopefully connect to their readers.


The most lighthearted of the bunch, Maryrose Wood's My Life: The Musical, is a pretty simple story about a pair of Broadway-obsessed best friends. Emily and Philip haven't been able to stop thinking about Aurora since the first time they saw the show. Literally — it's all they talk about, all they write about; Emily has even been ordered not to write another English class paper on anything relating to Aurora or Broadway. However, rumor starts that their favorite show is about to close, and the desperate Emily and Philip are forced to think of life beyond Aurora while grappling with many of their own day-to-day issues.

This was sort of the most painful one to read, simply because it reminded me of my own high school days when I was beyond obsessed with Buffy. I cringed just thinking back on myself then and how I let a TV show consume my life. On a whole, though, it's just a light read for the right teen. A theatergoer is the obvious target, but someone with a really strong interest in some form of media would find this relevant. It has a titch of identity-awareness as Philip questions his sexuality, but that plot point doesn't dominate the story.


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson is apparently a pretty well-known YA pick as of late. The story follows a high school senior, Tyler, who used to be your average overlooked high school boy until he got busted for graffiti art on his school's building. Since then, he's gotten himself a rep, and he's having some trouble adjusting to his new identity. Trouble seems to follow him now, and, worst of all, people expect it to. A string of events that could seriously affect his future leads him to question everything in his world.

This book carries quite the punch. It deals with some serious identity issues, especially as they interact with environment — parents, siblings, school, peers. Tyler is struggling with all of these things internally, as many teens do, but he has the added complication of an external identity shift. I think that's a very realistic predicament, and it's often out of an individual's control; people will make up their own minds, and that's often very difficult to change. Add on to that, Tyler has a poor support system in his parents, and he has trouble finding help. Twisted isn't a downer, really, but it does deal with some serious topics that are pretty universal to the teen brain.


Matt de la Pena's Mexican WhiteBoy is probably the one I enjoyed the most, partly because it dealt with a specific community of people, one that is foreign to me. Danny is half white and half Mexican. He's spending the summer with his dad's family in San Diego because he wants to be closer to his dad who's somewhere in Mexico. However, he's the only one that doesn't speak Spanish, and he feels just about as out of touch as I would in his situation. Oh, but he can throw a baseball. Like, seriously throw it. So there's that to get him through. Danny's summer opens his eyes to a lot about himself and his family and helps him find a place in a world he's never felt a part of.

Danny doesn't talk much, but you still understand how he feels, and he has a lot of the identity issues that any teen may have, not just teens of mixed race. I really noticed the dialogue between the characters and how casual it felt. It never felt like forced conversation of the author trying to imagine what a group of teens may say; it felt like he just jotted down a conversation he had recorded. I think this book would be good for a reluctant reader because it's fairly short and it doesn't try to smack the reader in the face with a big message or moral. It's just a good story about a simple character trying to figure it all out.

13 comments:

Aarti said...

Mexican Whiteboy sounds great! I don't know anyone in that age range, but I can always try it for myself :-)

Kari said...

Oh, you don't have to be a teen to enjoy it. ;)

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