Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best of 2013: Young Adult Realistic Fiction

Two of the many items enjoyed by Burbank Public Library staff during 2013, recommended for your consideration:

You may see multiple entries up here from those of us who read regularly in several genres, especially if we are specialty librarians--i.e., children's, teen, literacy, etc., so that we read in one area for work but in other areas for entertainment as well. I had to go back to my list of books (which you can see along the left margin of the young adult blog, since I challenged myself to read 110 books this year, posted them on Goodreads, and then displayed them on our blog) to remind myself of what I loved from which area. Here is one young adult author, who actually had two books published within 2013, one in February and one in September, both on my Best of 2013 list:

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Books have been written and movies have been made (think John Hughes's The Breakfast Club, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky) about so many teenage misfits--those kids who, try as hard as they might, just can't figure out popularity--what to wear, how to act, how to get friends and keep them so that there's someone to sit with at lunch or on the bus to protect you from the judgment and ridicule of being alone and different. Eleanor and Park is one of those, and so, in its own way, is the second book by Rowell.

It's 1986. Eleanor is the new girl at school, and she's the epitome of a misfit: weird clothes, wild, uncombed red hair, and attitude. Park isn't a popular kid, but he has connections to some of them from his neighborhood, who keep him mostly out of the line of fire; his claim to fame is being the only half-Korean kid in Omaha, Nebraska (or at least at this school). Their first encounter is on the school bus, a classic horrifying first-day scenario from which Park reluctantly rescues Eleanor; and after that initial save, neither can get the other one out of his or her head. Eleanor's difficult home life makes her reluctant to involve anyone else in that drama, while Park is handicapped by his mother's desire for him to fit in by dating a "nice" girl, and while Eleanor is smart and funny, she doesn't fit into that parameter. But despite everything, these 16-year-olds have a connection that can't be denied, and you root for them all the way through.
"Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."
If you like smart dialogue and sweet, genuine relationships, this one's for you; and if you're a fan of books with playlists, there's also a lot of talk about music as Park introduces Eleanor to his favorites from the '80s.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

This one is about twin sisters on their way to college. They have been inseparable their entire lives, and Cath assumes this will continue in college, but Wren has a different agenda: She wants her own roommate, her own classes, her own life ("If we do this together, people will treat us like we’re the same person”), and all this throws Cath for a loop. She's hurt and upset, and all Cath really wants when she's feeling that way is to be left alone to work on her fan fiction, based on two characters from the "Simon Snow" series (eerily similar to the Harry Potter franchise).

She has an enormous following for her almost novel-length fanfic takeoff featuring Simon and Baz, and college is getting in the way. So Cath lurks uneasily around the fringes, coping with the high anxiety caused by the typical challenges: where to sit in the cafeteria; how to co-exist with her scary roommate, Reagan, whose boyfriend, Levi, is annoyingly ever-present; and whether she can deal with an upper-level class she is regretting that she petitioned to take. She's also worried about her dad, who is on his own for the first time ever and who has some issues, and she has a boyfriend at another college who isn't really holding up his end of the get the idea. Retreating into the fanfic universe sounds like a pretty good idea!

This book has such a fresh voice. I loved all the characters (Levi = best boyfriend ever), the situations and challenges, the jumping back and forth between reality and fanfic, everything! SUCH a fun book to read. For an interesting interview with the author, Rainbow Rowell, go here (Goodreads).

Note: I recently discovered Rowell's first book, Attachments, which was an intelligent adult chick-lit Y2K number that I also adored. She creates characters I want to know and hang out with, and she takes situations that would be the rankest cliché in someone else's book and somehow makes them new. A writer to watch.

Melissa E., Teen Librarian

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