I didn’t plan this, but the past week’s reads all ended up being about heavy subjects. In a nutshell: September 11th, depression, suicide, and meth addiction. But don’t run away yet! The books that covered these dark topics ranged from compelling to uplifting to heartbreaking to downright beautiful.
I received two Fearless Fifteener ARCs at the end of last week, both very high on my “can’t wait to read this” list. Kerry O’Malley Cerra’s JUST A DROP OF WATER is a middle-schooler’s-eye-view of the events surrounding September 11th. As the school year starts, Jake’s biggest worry is beating his cross-country rival and securing a coveted Team Captain armband. But after September 11th, everything changes. Jake lives in Florida, far from the attacks, but he feels the repercussions in a very real way. His mom becomes fearful and paranoid. His best friend, Sam, gets beaten up for being Arab-American. Sam’s father is detained and questioned by the FBI. Jake struggles to determine what’s right in an incredibly hard situation. He doesn’t always make the right choices, but he learns a lot. His story will give today’s middle-schoolers insight into a historical event that happened just before they were born and shaped the world they live in. Although the descriptions of the day itself were hard to read, as someone who remembers that day all too well, the rest of the book was a compelling page-turner. I highly recommend this one, which comes out in just a few weeks.
Right after that, I started Jasmine Warga’s MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. This book is about a depressed teen, Aysel (pronounced like gazelle), who enters into a suicide pact with a boy who’s wracked with his own grief and guilt. But as Aysel gets to know Roman and finds herself opening up to him, she discovers that she wants to live. The concept might sound dark and sad—and it is. But this book is also profoundly hopeful. Aysel’s journey is heartbreaking and difficult, and yet it also manages to be uplifting without minimizing the serious issue of depression. Part of what keeps the book from feeling unrelentingly bleak, especially at the beginning, is Aysel’s wonderful voice. She’s funny and snarky, and she peppers her narration with references to physics, her favorite subject. As she finds herself falling for Roman, there’s a sweet vulnerability, as well. Really, I can’t say enough about this book—and I don’t want to say much more, for fear of spoiling the experience of reading it. MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES comes out a week before my own book, in February 2015, and you should definitely buy it.
For the YA Buccaneers’ Summer Reading Challenge, I read Ellen Hopkins’ CRANK, a novel-in-verse that’s based on Hopkins’ daughter’s descent into meth addiction. Hopkins is well-established on the YA scene at this point, and I’d never read any of her books (which are all written in verse), so this seemed like the time! What I liked most was the verse itself. Hopkins is a skilled poet, crafting poems within poems that contradict or elaborate on what’s being said on the surface. She lays the words out on the page in ways that enhance the text, as well. And by telling Kristina’s story in verse rather than using traditional narration, Hopkins is able to keep the story focused on raw, visceral emotion. My criticism would be that Kristina’s voice didn’t always feel authentic to a teenaged girl fighting a losing battle against “the monster” of meth. There were times I felt Hopkins—the adult author and mother of a girl very much like Kristina—intruding into Kristina’s thoughts. But if you’re interested in seeing how verse can propel a story forward in nontraditional ways, check this one out.
That’s all for now! Next week, I’ll have to try to read something a little more upbeat… Anyone have any beach book recommendations? 🙂