Friday, December 17, 2010

Highlights of 2010, Part II: The Nitty Gritty

I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge sucker for a good coming of age story, and I found some favourites this year. Some of the best books, in my opinion, are those that delve into the hard parts of life; those featured below touch on anorexia, abandonment, and tough relationships. Perhaps not the best gift for teens under the age of 14 or so, but great for making older teens think a little.

Before I get onto the books, a small thought- in recent months there’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere against banning books that are deemed to have content that is ‘inappropriate’ and thus seen to influence teen behavior in a negative way. I don’t know if anyone else shares my view, but I think that reading books that are gritty and real, however ‘inappropriate’ they are, has made me understand the consequences of risky behavior and made me a teen who’s less likely to engage in it. I think YA authors are generally great at illustrating the reality of a situation, and it’s good to be exposed to ‘the real world’ through literature instead of being thrust into it with no prior knowledge to influence your decisions. Just my two cents, but I’d love to discuss in the comments if anyone’s up for it :)

Wintergirls- Laurie Halse Anderson

I’ve adored Laurie Halse Anderson since I first read Speak, a book I sadly did not read in 2010, because it would be top of this list. She has a real knack for tackling the toughest situations in teen life with honesty, respect and wry humor, and Wintergirls is no exception. It follows the life of anorexic Lia, whose already fragile life falls apart after her best friend dies. It does a great job of de-stigmatizing eating disorders, and to steal a line from my review, our insight into Lia’s life banishes the view of anorexia as a distant, incomprehensible disorder, letting us see her as the mostly normal teenager she really is.

Jellicoe Road- Melina Marchetta

Although I’m not usually a great fan of novels written in a very literary style, Jellicoe Road won me over. It’s the complex, time-spanning story of teens at an Australian boarding school and the surrounding area, told through ‘turf wars’ between factions and snippets of a story about another generation. Taylor Markham is the strong leader of her faction, but also an abandoned child in search of her mother, and both storylines mesh together perfectly. Jellicoe Road also touches on the realities of first love and family, and was one of those books that makes me go quiet for a while once I turn the last page, thinking, ‘I just read a really good book.’

The DUFF: Kody Keplinger

Although this might fall into the ‘not for younger teens’ category due to sexual content, I thinks it captures edgy without being too crude or flippant.  When womanizer Wesley Rush nicknames Bianca Piper ‘The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend’, she throws her coke in his face. But when she needs to escape her crumbling home life, her mortal-enemies relationship with him turns into more of an enemies-with-benefits thing. Sounds implausible and gratuitous, right? But the thing is that it’s not; Keplinger’s progressions are beautifully sound and realistic, perhaps because she was a teen herself when she wrote this.  Despite her mistakes, Bianca is a strong heroine, and I think this a classic case where you learn from the character’s mistakes instead of following in their footsteps; by the end of the book, Bianca’s learned the value of friendship and that nothing comes without strings attached. Sweet and sassy.

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