Sometimes you bite into a book and it seems like it should be exciting, interesting, and perfect for your YA readers.Sometimes you open it and start reading, but soon the words blur on the page, you begin yawning, and find that the dialogue is taking you nowhere, because never in a million years does it reflect a conversation that you could possibly imagine any teens you know having. OR it’s so extremely dirty, you cringe at the idea of recommending it to a younger person, even if the story is, indeed, worth reading, and blush even as you read it.
However, every so often, you come across a book that’s so well written and masterfully told that you can’t put it down; you can’t wait to share it with every YA lit reader you know; you don’t want it to end. I had this distinct impression while reading Rainbow Rowell’s book, Eleanor & Park.
The book tells a couple of clear narrative story lines along the way: one follows Eleanor’s troubles dealing with an abusive step father, a highly impoverished living environment, and being the odd new girl in school. The other follows the budding friendship/relationship between Eleanor and her bus seat buddy, Park. It is a beautifully woven narrative, with strong dialogue, a touching switch of narration between Eleanor and Park ( a technique that’s been done–and done well–repeatedly in young adult fiction, by other YA lit authors–Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s popular book/movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist comes to mind, as well as in Marie Lu’s Legend series and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series–the books, not so much the movie). Personally, I think it’s a great way for the author to incorporate both the male and female perspectives in the story.
If you liked John Greene’s The Fault in Our Stars, this one is a great one to check out! (Especially because film rights have already been bought by Dreamworks, and the film itself is set to begin shooting next year!!!)
While Eleanor & Park is my favorite by this author, she has a couple of other books out, too, intriguingly each for (in my humble opinion) different age groups. While E & P is clearly geared for young adult readership, her book Fangirl, about twin girls starting college–one of whom is extroverted, the other introverted, both dealing with familial issues, concerns for each other and the initial college experience–is a great read, as well, though maybe a bit much for the standard 12-17 crowd. The book follows the main character, Cath, who is the author of an extremely popular fan fiction blog about a highly Harry Potter-esque book series, which rules her life through most of the book. Her sister, Wren, is focused on partying, drinking, boys and not much else. Yet Rowell does a great job of not judging either for their proclivities: instead, she treats her characters as young women who are making choices about juggling life, family, classes, and personal interests (though she does an excellent job of showing the family’s concern for Wren’s self-abusive drinking behaviors). Indeed, Cath is constantly reflecting the nervousness/self-doubt that seems fairly common in many young adults, while Wren engages in very adult behaviors with the careless interests of a youngster first tasting freedom.
There are definite arguments that this could work for the very oldest of the young adult novel crowd. However, I would lean the readership of this book more squarely towards new adult over young adult.
Finally, Rowell’s last book–Attachments–is squarely an adult novel (and so I won’t go into details on it on this blog. However, if you–fully adult young adult teachers–want a witty adult read, you could definitely do worse).
Out of curiosity, what is your take on romance in young adult lit? How much is enough, and how much is too much? And, perhaps most important, how does the author’s use of literary techniques determine the answers to these questions for you?