When it comes down to it, I think I’m a cross between a thirteen-year-old boy and a sixty-something woman. Here’s why:
- I read comics;
- I quilt;
- I like zombies;
- I own tons of moisturizers and creams;
- I watch action movies;
- I love BBC America and costume dramas.
I could go on and on, but regardless of my proclivities, my point is that in between reading “grown-up books,” I’ve been binging on adolescent fiction. I can’t think of a better word than binging, because I do crave reading young adult books; once I read one, I hungrily reach for more.
My most recent YA spree started with The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It’s the story of twelve-year-old orphan Hugo, who lives in 1930s Paris. Actually, to be more specific, Hugo lives in Gare Montparnasse, one of the city’s busiest train stations. There Hugo secretly works as the keeper of the clocks, a position that technically belongs to his uncle and guardian, who has gone missing. Hugo has no other relatives with whom he can live — his father died in a fire — and because he is scared of being sent away, he continues his uncle’s work within the station walls. After he’s caught stealing from the cart of a toy vendor, Hugo finds himself in the middle of a mystery that will change his life.
I can’t say much more without giving everything within the book away, but I will say these two things: The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a must-read for lovers of film history, as well as anyone who appreciates detailed pencil drawings. See, Selznick tells his tale in a somewhat unconventional manner, alternating between illustrations, text and photographs; by doing so, he facilitates a reader-friendly introduction to one of film’s most influential innovators.
After The Invention of Hugo Cabret, my picks in adolescent fiction definitely veered towards the dark and depressing, particularly with Suzanne Collins‘s novel The Hunger Games — which I immediately re-read upon completion, so engrossed by it was I. It’s impossible not to get hooked by Collins’s absorbing writing style and likable protagonist, not to mention the story’s incredibly captivating plot.
The Hunger Games takes place in the future, one in which North America no longer exists. The remaining pockets of civilization has been divided into districts serving a wealthier, more powerful capitol who each year reminds and punishes its chattel of their lower standing and previous rebellion by coercing one boy and one girl from each district to participate in a televised survival game. The novel’s main character Katniss is from District 12, the poorest of the bunch; when her twelve-year-old sister is selected to take part in the Hunger Games, Katniss quickly takes her place as the district’s tribute. Soon Katniss and Peeta, the male tribute from District 12, on are their way to the Capitol for makeovers, interviews and training before literately fighting for their lives in the bloody, gruesome games.
A few final notes: The Hunger Games is book one of a trilogy; part two, Catching Fire, is set for a September first release. While the plot is indeed fascinating, as is its social commentary, it is also very graphic. Children, after all, are not only being killed, but they are also killing each other in extremely explicit ways. I’m interested to see how the novel’s brutality will translate to the screen; Collins is adapting her book to film .
Even after The Hunger Games, I was still in the mood for something on the bleak side — who wants to read only happy stories? I want the characters I’m investing in to work for their happiness, as opposed to having it just handed it to them.
I thought Jay Asher‘s Thirteen Reasons Why would fit my sad little bill perfectly; after all, it’s about a girl who, before committing suicide, records her reasons why on a series of cassette tapes, which she organizes to have sent around to her classmates after her death. One of the recipients of the box of tapes also happens to have harbored a secret, not-acted-upon love for the girl. Doesn’t this all sound riveting?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Our suicidal narrator Hannah has a strong voice, and yet she is utterly unbelievable as a character. What she relates via cassette tape is tragic… but ultimately so very contrived. The boys in her school rank her ass on a widely-circulated list, for example, a scene taken right out of an episode of My So-Called Life*. Lamentably, Asher tackles way too much, and the end result is confusing, frustrating and all over the place.
Since Thirteen Reasons Why didn’t satisfy my craving for sad story, I turned to If I Stay by Gayle Forman to push me over the edge. It definitely did the trick — I kept on pushing the book off my lap distressfully, only to pull it back on again. You try reading about Mia’s close-knit family without getting torn up. It won’t happen.
Raised in Oregon by punky, unconventional parents, Mia rebels in her own way by choosing to play classical cello. Her skill is so great, she’s had a successful Julliard audition and is awaiting to hear if she’ll be New York bound in the fall when she goes for a ride with her parents and young brother. Their car is hit by another vehicle; Mia’s parents are killed upon impact, her brother is gravely injured and Mia, surprisingly, finds herself outside her own critically wounded body. As she follows herself through surgeries and intensive care, Mia looks back on her life and must decide what she wants to do, live or die.
It sounds so terribly hokey, doesn’t it? Trust me when I say If I Stay is not. Forman could so easily succumb to schmaltz and sentimentality, but she doesn’t. Instead, she allows Mia to grieve first her parents’ deaths, then her younger brother Teddy’s, without any sense of melodrama. Forman essentially trusts the reader with a heartbreaking story — something, unfortunately, that not all writers are able to do.
So is this the end of my adolescent fiction fever? That’s highly doubtful. Even though I’m currently reading an “adult” book, I’ve got a list of my next-reads at the ready. Some of them might even be somewhat cheerful.
Then again, they might not.
* Episode 5, “The Zit.”