Books 11 & 12

Posted on March 13, 2013. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

I actually have a reason for putting these books together in the same blog post. They are both Alex Award winners, books written for adults that are deemed to have an appeal to teens. Both of these, I feel, completely fail in having appeal to teens as anything but historical fiction.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home cover art

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is set in 1987, not that long after AIDS was discovered and everyone thought that it was only transmitted by gay men. The book starts with June’s uncle and godfather, Finn, dying of the disease. June soon discovers Toby, Finn’s boyfriend and the one who everyone blames for Finn being sick. She and Toby become close friends, bonding over their grief of losing Finn, but 14-year-old June has to keep the relationship secret from her family.

There were a few odd things about this book. The first is that June admits to being in love with her uncle. Now, I understand that as young as she is, saying that “she’s in love with him” probably isn’t the same thing as actually being “in love,” but both Toby and June’s older sister Greta both insist that she admit to this. To me, it sounds like she had a crush on him, which even that is still a little weird. Greta was another odd thing about the book. She goes back and forth from being the mean older sister type to being the best friend older sister type. She clearly has issues of her own (June finds her passed out drunk in the woods on two occasions, and the third comes at the climax of the book), but her issues are never really explored or resolved. All you get from her is that she needs her sister and wishes she’d never listened to their mother, but I finished the book still not understanding her motivations.

The oddest thing about this book is that it won an Alex. I don’t see it. Today’s teens are so far from the ’80s that I have my doubts that they’ll be able to identify with this book. People of the ’80s and ’90s were freaked out about AIDS. It was a part of television shows from that time targeted towards teens, like My So-Called Life or the original Beverly Hills, 90210. I can’t think of anything today that really compares, so I think teens will have trouble understanding the attitudes about AIDS in the book, even if they are completely realistic.

Since the book is written like a contemporary novel, and it really is for the people who grew up in that era, the real appeal for teens, I think, is how the book shows grief and handling the loss of a loved one.

Girlchild cover art

Then there’s Girlchild, set in 1980s Reno. This book is even further removed from the modern teenage experience. I was born in the ’80s, and it’s pretty far removed from my experience. There are elements to this book that some teens will identify with, though certainly not in a good way. Don’t get me wrong — the book is beautifully written at points, but as for a book with appeal to teens, I see it appealing to very few.

Rory Dawn Hendrix lives with her mother in the Calle, a trailer park in Reno, Nevada where people took care of their own and no one ever called the law. Rory is dirt-poor, and it doesn’t help that her mother, who already had four kids by the age of 19, is an alcoholic, and her grandmother, who also lives in the Calle, is no better. She’s sexually abused at a young age by a neighbor, and when it finally comes out, it seems to become one of those things that never gets talked about. Rory is exceptionally smart, but she holds herself back. The Girl Scout Handbook tie-in is pretty thin as it relates to what there is to the story. The book is written in small snapshots of Rory’s life, interspersed with social worker reports, math problems, and newspaper clippings. After reading a few of these, I started skipping them. I’m sure with careful study, I could relate these clips to the story, and I’m sure a literature class could have a field day with this book.

In the end, I felt like the book lacked hope, and while that’s certainly realistic, I feel like a book like this should transcend reality. Yes, Rory is smart, but she dumbs herself down, and in the end, she has no one, nothing, and no light in her future. The book is depressing at the start, gets radically worse, and ends depressingly. Again, it’s beautifully written at points, but I think it’s one of those books that reads better for the purpose of class discussion rather than for individual entertainment.

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