Tag Archives: Young Adult

8: Samantha’s Secret Room

Samantha's Secret RoomSamantha’s Secret Room by Lyn Cook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Borrowed from the VPL (Central Branch).

Read in May/June 2014.

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After I posted about the children’s book that changed my life, I received a comment with a link to a review that confirmed Samantha’s Secret Room was in fact the book I remembered. I checked the VPL catalog and they had a copy (the 1991 reissue), so I took it out the next time I was downtown. I took copious notes, so WARNING, spoilerific recap to follow. If you don’t want to know the plot of this 50-year-old book, flee now!

SPOILERS * SPOILERS * SPOILERS

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6: Speak

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the Fall 2013 VPL book sale.

Read in April/May 2014.

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I picked this up because it was one of those books I’d heard mentioned a lot, but I’d never read it. I wasn’t really sure what it was about—mostly what I’d heard was a lot of compliments without any specifics. So I wasn’t spoiled going in, but I quickly realized there was a Thing and what that Thing was. (I think it was supposed to be a dramatic reveal, but it seemed obvious to me. Perhaps because I am an Old.)

Melinda has just started ninth grade and she doesn’t speak. Well, she does, but as little as possible. No one speaks to her, except the new kid who doesn’t know any better. Melinda is Outcast.

I liked the opening and I have to admit being a bit disappointed when I realized Melinda was being shunned because of this thing she did and not just because. To be clear, the school isn’t shunning her because of the Thing (which no one knows about) but because of something she did in response to the Thing.

There were lots of things I liked about Speak. I liked the narrative voice, and the way the book was structured. The story is quite funny despite the dark subject matter. I totally bought Melinda’s closing down and not telling anyone what happened. Classic introvert response to trauma.

I also thought the characterization of the teachers was really good. Somehow it managed to capture both the kid’s-eye view of them (Melinda’s) and what they were really like at the same time. It made me think about how when you’re a kid you never really think of teachers as real people, having lives and problems of their own. (Teachers: magical robots who are switched on at 9 and shut down at 3. haha.)

VPL Fall Book SaleI’m surprised a bigger deal wasn’t made of what is apparently an abrupt and radical shift in Melinda’s personality. I guess it’s supposed to be somewhat lost/covered for by starting high school, her parents’ workaholism and marital issues, the incident that led to everyone hating her, etc. But still. You’d think at least one person would have questioned it (beyond “oh, she’s just being a teenager”).

My main criticism: I had a hard time buying that none of the other students knew what happened, that there were no rumors making the rounds. It did make for a more dramatic catharsis, but… this is high school. There is nothing, nothing that a high schooler loves more than drama. Even if no one witnessed what happened (questionable), I find it hard to believe IT wouldn’t have told a friend or two who told a friend or two and so on and so on. Because he’s THAT GUY. Or if not that, just that people didn’t notice the weirdness between them (he goes out of his way to provoke her) and start speculating why. Especially given his existing reputation that comes into play later in the book. Given that, how did no one put 2+2 together?

19: The Joys of Love

The Joys of LoveThe Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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From the Spring 2011 library book sale:

VPL Spring Book Sale

Well, this was a surprise. A new Madeleine L’Engle book? Now there’s dedication. Not even death could stop her writing!

It turns out The Joys of Love was one of the first novels she wrote, back in the 1940s, but it was never published. She shared it with her granddaughters when they were young and they arranged for it to be published posthumously.

The story is based on MLE’s experiences working in the theater as a young woman. The protagonist is Elizabeth “Liz” Jerrold, who is 20 years old and has just graduated from college. Although this was published by Farrar Straus Giroux books for young readers and is probably classified as young adult, it occurred to me that it fits right into the “New Adult” category some publishers are currently trying to make happen. She always was ahead of her time 🙂

It’s August 1946. The setting is a summer theater somewhere on the east coast, near New York City.

Liz’s first love is acting, but her Aunt Harriet (her guardian after her father died) disapproved. Harriet promised that if Liz majored in chemistry (chemistry! I wish more had been done with this) and graduated with honors, she could work at a summer theater. Liz graduates cum laude.

She finagles a scholarship to work as an apprentice* actor, but she still must pay $20/week** room-and-board. Because she doesn’t have any money of her own, Liz is dependent on her Aunt Harriet to pay her room-and-board.

*This position is kind of like an internship, but most apprentices pay for the privilege. So in some ways it’s more like a summer class/workshop that takes place in the real world. At any rate, it’s full-time and doesn’t leave any time for Liz to get a second (paying) job.

**Sidenote: this is not cheap! I did a conversion and apparently this is equivalent to $236.12 in today’s dollars, which is pretty spendy for a bed in a room shared with 3 other people and meals that leave them perpetually hungry.

Liz is infatuated with Kurt, the director, and bffs with Ben, another scholarship apprentice. Kurt, naturally, is a player who’s more interested in one night stands in his dressing room than having a girlfriend. Ben, naturally, would prefer Liz was his girlfriend rather than his bff. Liz is oblivious to Kurt’s fickleness and Ben’s true feelings. Everyone else is not.

The scholarship apprentices are portrayed as serious about acting; the paying apprentices less so.

The inciting incident is Aunt Harriet changing her mind about letting Liz spend the summer doing theater and ordering her to come home. Of course, Liz is an adult and she doesn’t have to do what Harriet says, but she also doesn’t have the $20/week she needs to pay her room-and-board.

It’s not the most original story ever, and modern readers might find Liz a little innocent/naive for a college graduate, but the setting and atmosphere are well done.

I couldn’t help comparing The Joys of Love to Ilsa, the second novel MLE published, which was written around the same time. Ilsa took place over many years and meandered all over the place with a huge cast of characters and various soapy plot developments. In contrast, TJoL is fairly tightly written. The focus is on a small core group of characters and the entire story takes place over a weekend. (In keeping with the theater theme, the chapters are designated as acts: Act I Friday; Act II Saturday; Act III Sunday; Act IV Monday.) I think The Joys of Love is the better story.

Speaking of Ilsa, perhaps the biggest surprise reading TJoL was that  Ilsa herself appears in it. It’s in flashback, when Liz recalls going to her mother’s funeral. Her mother, Anna, spent her final months living at Ilsa’s boarding house. Her propensity for crossover characters has always been one of my favorite things about MLE’s writing, so that was awesome.

6: Haters

HatersHaters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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An actual remainder table book. I picked it up because I remember her from the Evil Empire’s writing class back in the day (she was alisavr). I’m not sure why exactly I remember her (and her username!) when most of those people have vanished from my memory; she wasn’t involved in the foofaraw (aside: that isn’t spelled at all like I guessed it was). I think she was a just a presence in the chats.  And well, there was that resignation letter. I think that stuck in my mind. Anyhoo.

Since 2003, Valdes (since she published this she’s dropped the Rodriguez) has published seven novels, with an eighth forthcoming next year. Haters, published in 2006, was her fourth.

Haters is a young adult novel. Valdes’s  writing is fine, if a little heavy on the brand-name dropping, and there are lots of good elements here, but the story didn’t completely come together for me.

The core plot is your standard fish-out-of-water scenario: the story opens with 16-year-old Paski and her dad moving from New Mexico to California for his work. Paski’s main interest is bike riding (refreshingly uncliched).

One of the problems I had was with where the story started. There were a few chapters at the beginning with Paski in New Mexico before the move. I guess this was meant to show her “before” life, but there was a lot of detail about her grandma and her bffs and the boy she liked—enough that I kept waiting for this info to come back into play later in the story, but it mostly didn’t. So basically the opening felt like a warm-up to the story and I think a good editor would have lopped it off, said ‘your story starts here’ (on the road, arriving at the new home), and anything from the opening that was essential could be added in flashbacks.

The “omg my dad is so embarrassing” routine that was a constant thread throughout the book felt strained/forced. A little of this is fine—of course, all teenagers find their parents embarrassing—but there are degrees of embarrassing and Paski’s dad is not a schlumpy dork who wears polyester floods and a pocket protector and hasn’t updated his music collection in twenty years. He’s a comic book artist whose series has been optioned for a movie—hence the move to LA. He’s also 38 years old. And again, I realize 38 seems ‘old’ to a 16-year-old, but there’s kinda-sorta-old and there’s old-old, and yes! teenagers can tell the difference. My parents were a year or two older than that when I was that age and I distinctly remember friends commenting on my ‘young’ parents. And they weren’t the originators of a popular comic book series. I feel like it would have worked better to roll with her dad being geeky-cool (which he clearly is) rather than handling it like he’s an accountant or something.

My overall impression was that Valdes was trying to cram too many tropes into one story. It’s a mean girls story (the ‘haters’ of the title) and it’s also a paranormal. Oh, didn’t I mention? Yes, Paski’s psychic. She has premonitions. Was this necessary? Or was it just done to capitalize on the fact that everything’s paranormal these days? So, there’s a psychic sub-plot with the next-door neighbors, as well as the requisite one at school. There’s also the conflict with her dad over moving (and him being soooo embarrassing). There’s also a motocross racing plot. And, of course, the hottest boy in school who just happens to be dating the meanest girl in school plot. Because no one ever falls in lust with the second-hottest boy in school. 🙄