Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Teen Fiction

The Blending Time, by first-time novelist Michael Kinch, is another in a long line of recently published dystopias for teens, this one set in the 2060s and focused on the consequences of environmental disaster. Its protagonists are three teens (two boys and a girl), each of whom has just become a "s'teen" by turning seventeen and becoming eligible for assignment to a career. There aren't many careers to be had in what's left of NorthAm, though, and some of them you wouldn't want if you got them. That's why D'Shay, Jaym and Reena, when given a choice, all opt for becoming SUN Colonist/Blenders in Africa. It's an idealistic program designed to "blend" the races while bringing Africa back from the bad times of disease and drought after the devastation of a solar flare, and the three, all from harsh urban backgrounds, are looking forward to spending time in a country where there are still blue skies, exotic birds, and clear running water. But when they arrive in Africa, the realities of life there don't quite match up to the descriptions in the recruitment materials--their hosts are hostile, the government entity overseeing the program is corrupt, and civil war is imminent. Kinch tells their tale sparely and evocatively, and while the ending leads the reader to expect a sequel, it's not one of those infuriating cliff-hangers that stops in the midstream of the story.

Where She Went, by Gayle Forman, is the sequel to her affecting novel, If I Stay (reviewed here last summer as part of the Teens' Top Ten ballot). In that book we met Mia, who was in a devastating car accident that killed her parents and brother and put her in a coma, and Adam, her boyfriend, who recognizes the devastation of her loss but wants her to choose life with him rather than moving on with her family. Much of the action of this book hinges on the career trajectories that had begun right before the tragedy; Mia had just been admitted to Juilliard to pursue an education and hopefully a career as a cellist, while Adam and his band, Shooting Star, were right on the cusp of stardom in the Seattle punk-rock scene. Three years later, Adam's life looks picture-perfect: his band has had phenomenal success and is about to embark on a world tour; he has a famous actress girlfriend who draws paparazzi attention wherever they go; and...he's miserable. Three months after awaking from her coma, Mia left for Juilliard, and a few weeks later, Adam's emails start going unanswered, Mia begins dodging his calls, and he finally realizes that he's been dumped--and he has no idea why.

The book is told from the first-person perspective of Adam, which is an effective device, since the reader knows no more than he does what went so horribly wrong and has to find out along with him. The book is similar to the first in that while there is quite a bit of flashback explanation, the primary events of the novel take place in one 24-hour period, when Adam happens upon a concert Mia is giving in New York City and the two reconnect, each on their way out of town on tour, for a night that may or may not resolve the confusion and hurt of the past three years.

I have to say that the only thing that made this book less than plausible for me was the degree of success achieved (and in three years!) by each of these two unknown musicians, one in the popular music arena and one in the classical. But one of the points of Forman's story is that success doesn't necessarily equal happiness, and the closure of this poignant love story may well be adequate to cause teen readers to suspend their disbelief and go with the fairy tale.

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