Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Classic Connections

It's time once again for Classic Connections in Young Adult Literature.  Authors are getting more and more inventive as they reference or reinvent the classics.  This month I can recommend several new titles.  Being Henry David by Cal Armistead involves a teenager with amnesia whose only clue to his identity is the book he is carrying- Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Great by Sara Benincasa is a reimagining of The Great Gatsby set in the modern day Hamptons. Second Star by Alyssa Sheinmel sets the story of Peter Pan in a surfing community in California. Finally, Cinderella's Dress by Shona Slayton suggests that Cinderella's ball gown still exists and has been handed down through the centuries to girls charged to protect it.

Being Henry David begins when an injured boy wakes up in Penn Station remembering nothing and carrying only $10 and a copy of Walden. When two homeless kids befriend him, he tells them his name is Henry David and they dub him Hank.  After an altercation in which he severely injures a man who attacks him and his new friends, he finds himself on the run again, this time to Concord, Massachusetts where he hopes to find clues to his identity. As his memories slowly return, he is taken in by a librarian who poses as Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond and  gets involved with a girl with whom he discovers a mutual love of music. The unraveling of the mystery of his identity is paired with frequent passages from Walden which he seems to have memorized. Although finding out who he is and what happened to him is compelling, it is the new relationships he forges in Concord that give the story depth. Teens who haven't read Walden may want to pick it up after finishing this unique page turner.

Great introduces teenage Naomi Rye who arrives in the Hamptons to spend the summer with her celebrity chef mother.  She becomes transfixed by her mysterious neighbor Jacinta, who seems to be the Hampton's IT girl.  When she is not dishing in her blog about the Hampton glitterati, Jacinata is planning lavish parties that are the talk of the town.  Naomi, who expected the summer to be a bore, finds herself with a hot boyfriend and a new best friend who is the most glamorous teen in the Hamptons.  But Jacinta, like Jay Gatsby, is hiding secrets and scandal is on the horizon.  Changing the gender of the classic main character is not often done in YA classic connections, but it works well in Great.  The basic structure of the story remains the same with the outside narrator telling the tale.  Inviting a comparison with the original should make for lively discussion.

Second Star finds Wendy Darling searching for her missing surfer brothers  in a contemporary ocean-side setting. Although her brothers, Michael and John,  have been missing for months and are presumed dead, she is determined to find them. Her search leads her to a hidden community of renegade surfers with two factions: one led by the charismatic Pete and the other by his nemesis, the drug dealing Jas (Captain Hook).  Even as Wendy is falling for Pete, she finds herself attracted to Jas, who paints himself as a misunderstood bad boy. Although many of the names remain similar, the story veers wildly from the original Peter Pan. There is much more of a focus on the love triangle and less on Peter and the lost boys.  As everyone around her, including the reader, questions Wendy's sanity, she perseveres.

Cinderella's Dress is a twist on the Cinderella tale, in that it imagines what takes place after the story is over.  The setting is WWII and Kate, the main character, is being pushed by her mother to become a model, when all she wants to do is create department store window displays. When her Polish relatives arrive with a trunk they say is filled with Cinderella's dresses, Kate finds she is destined to become the keeper of the dresses, charged with protecting them from evil doers. Then Kate's new love interest, who is involved with creating the window displays, leaves for boot camp, and  she is allowed to take his place as the window dresser's apprentice.  Predictably, she gives in to temptation and uses the Cinderella dresses to create a series of window displays depicting the fairy tale.   With a father and brother overseas and her mother at odds with her dreams, Kate is on her own to determine the truth about her relatives' fantastic claim. Although this book reads more like historical fiction, than fantasy, there is still a magical feel to the tale.