Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fiction | This Ain't Hollywood

I picked up this next book based totally on judgment of its cover. Its retro setting and road-trip adventure plot didn't hurt, either; nor did the mission of its indie publisher. To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie by Ellen Conford was originally published in 1982 and has recently been re-released by Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint of Ig Publishing, dedicated to bringing new life to YA classics from decades past. [This is my Read Harder "indie press" category choice.]

So, I've been wanting to read this one ever since I first set eyes on this gorgeous imprint. [Its titles follow the same beautiful, retro design scheme; the type looks good; the pages feel good.] But because it's such an old book and new reprinting, NO ONE HAS IT! No public library, no school library... Finally, I bought a copy for my own school library, along with many others in the imprint, just so I could read it!

Conrad tells the story of a 15-year-old girl named Sylvie who has spent her young life hopping from one foster home to the next. She's had neither a stable or safe upbringing; her moves tend to be the result of some purposeful misbehavior, Sylvie's own found defense mechanism against creepy foster dads with wandering eyes and hands. Her only comfort is the escape to Hollywood she's been planning for the past three years. If Sylvie dresses up with the right makeup, hair, and shoes, she can pass for 18, and that's what she's counting on to get her across the country to begin her new life as a star.

After a series of unfortunate events (aka, all her money gets stolen), Sylvie finds herself stranded in middle American and dependent on a ride from a Bible salesman named Walter to take her the rest of the way. Obviously, her decisions are misguided here. Walter is fairly young and pretty charming, but he's definitely got that smarmy quality. Knowing Sylvie's past encounters with untrustworthy men, it seems somewhat surprising she'd agree to hitch a ride with this shady dude, but maybe she just figures she can handle whatever is thrown at her. Regardless of her reasons, the result is a cringe-inducing journey across the country where all we can do is sit back and hope she survives the trip.

I have to say that this daunting plot with a seedy under-belly isn't exactly what I expected for this story. It's more like an after-school special in book form. To All My Fans broaches issues like molestation and sexual assault in a way that introduces a great distrust of adults who are in positions of supposed trustworthiness. For a brief moment, I questioned whether this was "middle school appropriate" for my library, but then I decided that "middle school" doesn't need to mean watered down. This book is by no means overly graphic, nor would I consider any of the content "too mature" for kids in this age group. In fact, there are probably middle schoolers who deal with some of these issues and need to encounter stories and characters that mirror their own lives.

The story doesn't end with a big climactic situation or confrontation; rather, it peters out by bringing this plot-driven adventure back around to the main character, ending with a "checking in" (for lack of a better phrase) with Sylvie—what she's thinking and feeling, where's she's going from here. Readers looking for a simple thriller or adventure story may be disappointed, but there are substantial talking points raised for discussion.

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