Thursday, June 24, 2010

Teens' Top Ten Twosome

I picked up a couple of the novels on the Teens’ Top Ten ballot this week to see the kinds of books that are in competition this year. As much as I love fantasy and science fiction and have enjoyed the rash of those books in recent teen literature, I have to admit that it was refreshing to read two titles proposed by a bunch of teens as some of the best of 2010 that had absolutely no trace of a vampire or a werewolf on their pages!

The first one I read because of its play-on-words title and engaging cover: Heist Society, by Ally Carter. It’s the story of Katarina Bishop, part of the family business (international art theft) since the age of three; but at 15, she pulls off the ultimate scam—she convinces the best boarding school in New England to admit her as a pupil, despite the total lack of records and transcripts (these things are easily faked by those who know how), and is quietly trying to be “normal” when her friend Hale shows up to drag her back into the art world underground.

Five priceless paintings have been stolen by someone…and the Italian mobster who owns them figures the only art thief good enough to pull off the job in the face of truly daunting security is Kat’s dad. Problem is, he didn’t do it—but no one (other than Kat and Hale) believes him. The mobster gives Kat two weeks to convince her dad to return the paintings (or else…), but instead, Kat and her teenage crew use the two weeks to figure out who really stole the paintings, and then make a daring plan to steal them back.

I found the timeline of the book initially confusing, since it begins with Kat being kicked out of boarding school but doesn’t give you the background for awhile that would explain why this is interesting or significant. This particular writing style—allowing the reader to find out about the characters as the story unfolds, rather than supplying the back story up front—is more intriguing but also sometimes frustrating; Carter does a pretty good job with it, but at a couple of points early on, I have to confess I wondered if this was a sequel to something I hadn’t read yet. Ultimately you do figure it all out, and Heist Society turns out to be a good little “caper” book—a fun summer read begging for a follow-up. Also try the author’s other books, which are a series (the Gallagher Girls books, starting with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You), about an all-girls academy that trains its young attendees to be spies.

The second title I assayed was If I Stay, a first Young Adult book by Gayle Forman. Based on this one, I hope she writes a bunch more. In fairly spare yet intimately conversational prose, Forman tells the story of Mia, starting with a turning point in her life and allowing the reader to discover what led up to it through a past-and-present narration that draws you effortlessly into close personal relationships with everyone she holds dear.

Mia and her family, liberated from work and school by a “snow day,” decide to take a drive to visit some old friends; a few minutes into the drive, a violent collision leaves her parents dead, her brother Teddy’s location unknown to her, and Mia herself standing over her own battered body, wondering, “Am I dead?”

The answer is, not yet, but she’s very badly injured—and the remainder of the book is Mia, in a state where she can see and hear but not really touch or feel, both reviewing and ruminating on her life and trying to decide “if I stay.” The obvious and inevitable comparisons will be made to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and justifiably so, in terms of both pathos and readability (and their similar light blue covers). But I believe this book will hold even more appeal for teens on the cusp of all the decisions that teens are making, about colleges, relationships, career paths—all those things you think you have to decide forever at age 17 or 18—and give them a new perspective.

For a list of all the Teens' Top Ten candidates, check the young adult section of any Burbank library, or go here: to our library catalog for complete records (including descriptions and availability).

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