Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Harbinger is a Young Adult novel that examines the nature of truth, lies, and in a greater context, our view of reality. The story opens in a tattoo parlor where four kids have decided to get matching tattoos, except something happens just as the last kid, our narrator, is about to sit down for his. The four teens decide to escape to a remote cabin in the deep in the forest for a weekend of fun. As you can imagine, fun quickly turns to trouble as the towns people act in a hostile manner towards them and little things start happening: their satellite phone, the only link to the outside, goes missing and their car becomes disabled. Just when you think this is like so many other “locked room” mysteries with dead bodies piling up with no plausible explanation as to the culprit, author Harbinger adds another spin to the narrative. Not wanting to spoil the ending, this reader felt it was a bit too contrived and there was insufficient evidence given during the body of the narrative for the reader to have figured any of it out. If you like that sort of “final chapter reveal” you will love this one. This reader, however, in the end was not convinced by the motive given for the violence.
In addition to the plot line, the story also addresses the life, loves, and concerns of a gay teen couple. Harbinger, who founded a LGBT youth support group in his home town of Tacoma, Washington, has the credibility to successfully tackle this subject in a YA novel. I appreciated the scenes that illustrated the boys’ affection for each other and the insight it provided to “outside” readers, but felt some of the more sexually explicit scenes seemed included to make a point more than to flesh out a character or move a plot point. Overall, the writing is engaging, the voice of the narrator is strong, and the plot moves at a brisk pace.
I’ve been neglecting my reading list and book reviews lately while I concentrated on finishing writing False Gods, a Young Adult novel which, at first glance, is about a girl shooting for the Washington International Horse Show against the odds. On a deeper level, the story is about the nature of desire and whether what you want in life twists and torments you or lifts you up and fills the void. For the months of December and January, all proceeds are going to a local church’s youth program. The book is now available on Amazon http://amzn.to/163iXsS in paperback and ebook versions. Please post a review on Amazon if you buy it! #YA #horses #FalseGods
Thanks Blog followers and I hope to be back with some book reviews soon.
The newest YA novel by E. Lockhart, We Were Liars, follows the narrative of a young girl, Cadence Sinclair Eastman, from a privileged family who spends every summer on a private island off of Massachusetts with her cousins and one very special boy. The summer of her fifteenth year something terrible happens which leaves her with memory loss, debilitating headaches, and the urge to give away all her possessions. Returning to the island for a brief stay two years later, she tries to uncover what happened. (None of the family members will talk about it.) Through her scattered and unreliable recollections, we piece together the image of a highly dysfunctional family torn apart by greed, prejudice, jealousy. The perfect veneer of the powerful Sinclair family is ripped away to reveal their true poverty of spirit, Cadence included. The horrible accident which occurred the fifteenth year is the culmination of Cadence’s attempt to right her perception of the wrongs. The author, Lockhart, does an interesting job using the voice of her main character in an almost poetic narrative prose to describe the people and events. She does an outstanding job giving us glimpses and hints as to the character of the adults in the book, whereas the portrayal of the teenaged friends/cousins is less subtle. Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels too forced and precocious for the voice of the young teen. Overall, the book was very readable, the story engaging (although I did figure out the twist miles before the big reveal), but I would say the ending is unsatisfactory. It goes out with a little puff after such emotional fireworks that precedes it.
Author Laurie Halse Anderson took on a tough issue in her new YA novel The Impossible Knife of Memory. The story opens with the main character, Hayley Kincain, attending high school in her dad’s home town and feeling alienated from the other kids, who she terms “zombies.” This is the first time Hayley has settled down in one spot since her dad returned from the war in Iraq with severe PTSD. Her life up to this point has been on the road in his rig, lurching from job to job, town to town. He has resolved that his daughter needs to be in one place for a while, but he has not resolved to seek help for himself–which is the real problem. Hayley has been forced into the role of parent to her dad, who is sometimes violent, moody, often drunk or drugged, and is becoming increasingly unstable. She hides the severity of his disfunction from friends, school officials, and her ex-step mother–the one person who understood and was willing to step up and help. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of such prize-winning works as Speak, does a masterful job illustrating the tension in Hayley’s life as she tries to keep her dad safe from others as well as himself. What the author fails to do is write a believable love story between Hayley and an oddball student, Finn. The dialog between these two characters is awkward, out of character, and often breaks the mood of the rest of the novel. I liked Finn and wanted to believe in their romance, but for me it didn’t work. Hayley in the beginning of the novel is such an unlikeable, bitter, and arrogant character that I was bored with her and tempted to put the novel down, but pressing on and with the revelation of more of her background, she became more sympathetic and softer. A good story, but overly long.
“Kelcie” by Frank Kovalchek
Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters is a story about looks being deceiving. It centers around a young middle schooler, Antonia, who is selected by the guidance office to provide peer counseling to troubled fellow student, Jasmine “Jazz” Luther. Antonia is immediately put off by the girls looks — piercings, black lipstick, tattoos — and assumes she’s unintelligent, sub-human, and trouble. As the story unfolds, we learn that it is Antonia — a model straight A student, who is struggling with a home life that’s falling apart: her dad has deserted the family and her mother is increasingly dysfunctional. Antonia, left to pick up the slack for her two young brothers, tries to hide the facts from neighbors and school officials and refuses to ask for help. Despite their differences, the girls begin to trust one another. Antonia discovers that Jazz lives in a mansion and is a gifted classical pianist. Jazz, on the other hand, takes part in supporting Antonia when she and her brothers are sent to live in a foster home. The author, Peters, weaves a masterful portrayal of Antonia’s mother’s descent into crippling depression. Although the book is a bit dated, it is a fast and enjoyable read. Peters, who has made her mark in the young adult fiction scene with stories about struggles faced by gay/lesbian teens, made the characters in this story, however, a bit too stereotypical. The “good girl” Antonia is too naive and often talks like a middle-aged woman, whereas the “bad girl” Jazz trots out all the clichéd bagged of a teen rebelling against her parents. I also question the age of the girls, who are supposed to be 8th grade middle schoolers. The fact that Jazz sports tattoos and such without parental permission is questionable, and some of their activities seem more appropriate to high school. Overall, a good story that kept this reader engaged.
Courtney C. Stevens’ debut novel “Faking Normal” takes on some tough issues. It opens at the funeral for a neighbor who has been killed by her own husband. The dead woman’s teenaged son, Bodee, is a bit of an oddball and outcast already– a boy who dyes his hair with KoolAid and keeps to himself. After the tragedy, he is taken in by Alexi’s family to live with them for a while, and is the only one who notices that Lexi has a dark secret of her own. She’s been “faking normal” and has convinced her two close friends, Liz and Heather, her parents, and everyone else around her that she’s living the life of a normal high school teen. But Lexi is not doing such a good job in suppressing her internal demons, and has turned to hiding in her closet at night and tearing at the back of her neck until it bleeds. Stevens keeps the reader guessing as to the specifics of Lexi’s incident, but it is clear that it involves some form of sexual abuse. Bodee, mature beyond his years, supports her until she seems stronger and then presses her to make a full disclosure. In turn, Lexi is pressuring him to swear out a disposition against his father. It is a lovely story of the two teens growing closer, the mis-steps they take along the paths of high school dating, break-ups, drinking, and other pitfalls. Lexi, in love with an imagined boy who leaves song lyrics on her desk, almost misses the real flesh-and-blood boy right in front of her. If I were to find fault with the novel, it is in the portrayal of the minor characters around Lexi and Bodee: the girlfriends Liz and Heather are not fleshed-out individuals and the football player boyfriends are somewhat cartoonish stereotypes. Stevens certainly has writing skills and could have made them more fully formed. Also, Bodee speaks at times with the voice of a wise sage years older than his teens, which jars at times, but he is such a sympathetic and lovable character, it is forgiven. One thing I must applaud Stevens for is her bravery in including references to God and religion in a Young Adult work. The mother attends a prayer meeting, the kids have attended church school, and there is a definite thread of a religious nature throughout. The author also in the back of the book has provided a special message to any boy or girl who has suffered rape or abuse, telling them it is never their fault, they can find help to a normal life again, and they must learn to trust again. It is a beautiful, honest and brave footnote to the book. Thank-you, Courtney.
Jody Casella, first time author of “Thin Space,” has written an engaging YA novel that easily crosses the lines into mainstream. It is the story of a a teenaged twin who is consumed with guilt over the death of his brother. We are not told the circumstances of the car accident which took the life of one twin, and left the other alive, but severely injured. The story takes up with his recovery, and his all-consuming quest to find a “thin place,” a legendary spot where the boundaries between this world and the next are so thin, that a person can pass through. He is determined to find this place and make things right with his brother. Despite the paranormal premise of the novel, it is for the most part firmly grounded in reality. The author masterfully portrays the strained relationship between the teen and his grieving parents, struggling to find some normality in the situation. The author also is adept at creating teenagers who ring true, who, for the most part, act and speak like high schoolers. Despite the fact that the author is female, for the most part I did not read lines spoken from the teenaged boy and think, hmmm, that sounds more like a mature woman speaking. To her credit, Jody Casella has captured the angst and alienation of all teens, and especially one who has suffered an unbearable loss. A highly recommended read.