Thursday, December 10, 2009

YA Year End Roundup

In my effort to catch up a little on reviews before the end of the year, I'm going to provide a quick look at a few YA novels I've read recently. The first two are both Canadian books:

Not Suitable for Family Viewing / Vicki Grant
Toronto: HarperCollins, c2009.
290 p.

I've read both of Vicki Grant's earlier novels for younger readers, about the wonderfully funny Cyril MacIntyre and loved them for their humour and for their main character. This one is a bit different: it's for an older audience, and the main character is a teenage girl. However, the sense of humour and the importance of family ties are still in evidence.

We have Robin, a girl who is a bit overweight and feels rejected by her thin, beautiful and busy tv talk show host mother, Mimi Schwartz, and overlooked by her father and his new family. It seems to her that she has a closer relationship with their long time housekeeper than with her own mother.

Robin finds a ring and a photo hidden in her mother's room, both of which are from a school in small town Nova Scotia. As a New Yorker who believes that her mother was brought up in Brooklyn, this confuses Robin mightily, and she decides that she will take off to Nova Scotia alone instead of going to her father's for the weekend as she was supposed to. She has no problems with finding the money to do so, but once she arrives in Nova Scotia she realizes she is woefully unprepared for the realities of being on her own in a small, rural setting without cafes and buses and people everywhere.

She comes across a friendly face even though she doesn't realize it at the time: she hitches a ride with a young man driving a dirty old brown van, and begins to have visions of disaster.
The self defence expert said I'm supposed to poke the guy in the eye with my keys.
Like I know where my keys are. I never know where my keys are! I bit my nails down to the quick last night so they're not going to be much good either. ...
He turns into a driveway in front of this old ramshackle house. He stops the car. He goes, "I think this is what you want," and leans his big body across mine....
I don't remember what they tell you to do at this point. All I know is that I'm not going to let anything happen. There's no way. My body knows that even better than my head does. It's like a reflex or something. I punch the guy as hard as I can right in the face. He goes flying back. ...
I say, "Don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me. I've got money."
He goes, "Me? Hurt you? What are you talking about! You're the one who just punched me in the face! I'm on my way home from work, minding my own business, when some nutcase flags me down and punches me in the face!"...
The guy's got very white teeth. They almost glow in the dark. I wish I'd noticed that before. I would have been a lot less likely to think he was a psychopath, had I seen those teeth. (My impression is
that homicidal maniacs don't have a lot of time to spend on dental hygiene.)

Lots of research at the small local library follows, along with the beginnings of romance, and Robin discovers her mother's secret. The conclusion is not exactly a surprise but the story is well drawn and entertaining. (and for all you fellow Canadians, for some reason I couldn't help picturing Dini Petty as the mother). A fun and light read, despite a few more serious issues coming up in the storyline.

Road to Bliss / Joan Clark
Toronto: Doubleday, c2009.
271 p.

I really like some of Joan Clark's adult books: her novel Latitudes of Melt is one of my favourite books of the last few years. She is also known for her young adult books, but unfortunately I didn't find this one all that compelling, despite its possibilities. It is about a young man, Jim Hobbs, who walks away from Toronto (and his dysfunctional family life) after a power outage and widespread chaos. He hitches a ride and makes it all the way to the Prairies, where he finds an abandoned farmhouse and decides to stay awhile. He camps out there, and meets Miriam -- one of his neighbours from the commune the next farm over. Majestic Farm is a religious compound, complete with patriarchal structures, young women who are not allowed to leave the farm and are made to cook and clean and bear children, restrictive and archaic societal rules, and so on. It felt a little heavy-handed and and a bit old fashioned, and I never really felt a connection to any of the characters. So while it was an interesting enough idea, I can't say I was overwhelmed by it. Just a so-so read for me.

I've also read a few other teen novels, ones which need little explanation as they are so well known. First of all, I finally got my hands on John Green's Paper Towns. I enjoy John Green's writing so much, and found Paper Towns to be fascinating and fun, yet with a mysterious character at its centre to intrigue the reader. Although I still like An Abundance of Katherines best of all his books, this one was certainly entertaining.

I also picked up, finally, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks. I liked it, but had a few problems with the storyline. Frankie didn't always make a lot of sense to me, but she was certainly full of spit and vinegar and a nice antidote to the girls who stand at the edges of stories and wait for the boys to do something. She sure had the Criminal Mastermind position wrapped up in this story.

One last YA book I read was the latest in the Once Upon a Time series -- I like this series for its attempt to retell classic fairytales although some of the volumes work better than others. My favourite author who contributes to this series is Cameron Dokey, and her most recent creation is called Winter's Child, based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. It was pretty good, even if the end was a bit abrupt and a bit too pat for my liking -- but then fairy tales are supposed to end with happily-ever-after, aren't they? What I like about Dokey's tales is that in each of them there is always something about storytelling itself, which is a nice touch.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!