Friday, November 21, 2014

Engaging Voices in YA novels

The distinct personality, style and point of view or "voice" in young adult novels is what keeps many readers engaged.  Many YA novels are written in first-person, which allows the character to believably present an unsophisticated and unchallenged view of herself and the world around her. The insights are frequently charmingly witty, if somewhat off base.  This month I want to suggest four new novels whose main characters had me at "What's up?"  Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey, author of the hilarious Dating on the Dark Side vampire series, stars a plucky heroine who is channeling Nancy Drew.  Noggin, by Printz Award Winner, John Corey Whaley, features a cancer victim who dies, has his head cryogenically frozen and then reanimated and placed on a donor body.  Anatomy of a Misfit, by adult author Andrea Portes, explores the emotions of a Nebraska teenager in the orbit of a queen bee. Finally Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander is about a math genius who gets involved with a girl who is anything but predictable.

In Buzz Kill teen journalist Millie Ostermeyer tries to model herself after her literary heroine Nancy Drew in solving the mystery of the unpopular high school football coach's murder.  There is a long list of suspects and her father, the assistant coach and town mayor, is at the top of the list.  During her investigation, she discovers the mysterious new quarterback, Chase Albright, has ties to the coach that may help her find the murderer.  Their flirtatious banter, her self-deprecating humor, and the short chapters with cliffhanger endings make this a real page turner.  Millie is always asking herself, "What would Nancy do?" As she and Chase work together to solve the mystery, they find themselves falling in love, but his tragic past may just be a roadblock to a shared future.

Travis Coastes, aka Noggin, gets a second chance at life when his cryogenically frozen head is attached to the body of a well-built sixteen-year-old who died of brain cancer. His excitement over his hot new body lasts just long enough for him to realize his friends are now 21, and he is still sixteen and having to navigate high school without them. Travis refers to himself as "Mary Shelley's nightmare come true" but new friend Hatton dubs him Noggin. When Travis tries to reactivate his old life, he finds his friend Kyle, who came out to Travis on his deathbed, is back in the closet, and his girlfriend Cate is engaged to someone else.  His sophomoric efforts to win her back are cringe worthy.  Hatton acts as Travis's wingman, as he struggles with issues of life, love and death, and helps him realize that everyone has moved on and he may just have to begin again.  This book, by the author of the award winning Where Things Come Back, is a National Book Award finalist.

Anna Dragomir, the protagonist in Anatomy of a Misfit, is struggling to reconcile her head with her heart.  The third most popular girl, she finds herself a slave to the queen bee's ("the dark side of the force") prejudices, but Anika is secretly in love with ("nerd-ball turned goth romance hero") Logan McDonough. Their midnight rendezvouses and his romantic poetry make her heart throb, but she knows dating him is social suicide. Then Jared Kline ("God's gift to Nebraska") begins courting her and she feels compelled to go out with him. As she navigates romantic and ethical problems, as well as family issues with her stepdad, annoying siblings and demanding professor father (a "Romanian who looks like Count Chocula"), Anika wonders how to be true to herself. Her razor sharp analyses of the people around her and her quirky reflections on high school drama make for an entertaining read.

Math geek Charlie Hanson looks at the world through the eyes of a scientist in Love and Other Unknown Variables.  In beginning the story, he acknowledges there are an infinite number of ways to start but the ending will always be the same. After striking out in three attempts to get a girl's attention in elementary school, he reflects,"In each failed experiment, I kept changing the girl, when it was myself I should have taken out of the equation." Then he falls head over heels for Charlotte Finch, who is not only his sister's best friend, but also his English teacher's sister.  Charlie is Ms. Finch's arch nemesis and when he finds out Charlotte is gravely ill and her sister's attention is smothering her, he decides to launch a prank campaign against Ms. Finch to distract her.  Nothing goes quite as he plans. Charlie's mathematical analysis of all aspects of his life make for a hilarious, yet poignant read.

No comments:

Post a Comment