Friday, August 7, 2015

YA Novels Focusing on Parental Abuse: Emmy and Oliver, Everything, Everything, and Awake

Young adult novelists frequently find a way to minimize the main character's parents so that the YA characters can take credit for dealing with their own coming-of-age problems.  However, my recommendations this month focus on books where the parental roles are paramount, because parental abuse causes the conflict in the story. Emmy and Oliver by  Robin Benway (Audrey, Wait!) explores the problems involved when a boy, who was kidnapped by his father, is returned to his mother and her new family after being away for ten years.  Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon involves a teenage girl who has been diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) by her physician mother who keeps her imprisoned in their hermetically sealed home, only allowing her to have contact with her and a nurse. Awake by Natasha Preston (The Cellar) introduces Scarlett Garner who manages to escape after being offered up as a cult sacrifice by her parents.

Emmy and Oliver, next-door-neighbors and best friends, are torn apart at age seven when his father kidnaps him. As a result,  Emmy's parents become extremely overprotective, so she hides elements of her life like surfing and a desire to go way for college, which would horrify them. Over the ten years they are apart, she obsesses over Oliver's disappearance, fantasizing about his return.  Meanwhile, he has been living with his father in NYC, unaware that his father, who tells him his mother abandoned him, is actually on the run. When he is fingerprinted on a school field trip, the authorities find him and return him to his mother and her new husband and twin girls.As he struggles to fit into his new family and come to terms with his father's betrayal, Emmy tries to find a way back to their childhood relationship.   Rather than focusing only on the teen romance, the author examines the effects of the abduction and return on not only Oliver and Emmy, but also his mother and family, Emmy's parents and his other childhood friends.  No matter how desperately the people involved would like things to return "normal," they must come to the realization that nothing will ever be the same.

Everything Everything focuses on Maddy, who has "Bubble Baby Disease" and has lived for years inside a sterile environment, having contact only with her physician mother and her nurse Carla.  Then Olly, a gorgeous boy with smooth parkour's moves, arrives next door and everything changes.  After flirting through the windows of their neighboring bedrooms, they connect via email and begin a secret relationship. Finally Carla, who realizes something's up, allows Olly to visit.  As they fall in love, Olly and Maddy struggle to find a way to be together. His abusive alcoholic father and her obsessively overprotective mother are seemingly insurmountable roadblocks to romance.Spot art, emails, instant messaging and medical charts, as well as Maddy's "Spoiler Alert" blog about the books she reads, make this a unique read, but it is the sympathetically quirky characters, that make this story so compelling.

In Awake, Scarlett Garner does not remember the first four years of her life, until a car accident triggers strange dreams about the past. Her adoptive parents are very evasive and try to explain away her visions of a burning building and a girl named Evelyn. At the same time she falls for Noah, a new student at her school, who unbeknownst to her, has been sent by a cult called Eternal Life to abduct her so she can be sacrificed for their eternal salvation.  The story is told in alternating chapters from Scarlett and Noah's perspectives, so the reader knows his true motivations long before Scarlett. Against his better judgement Noah falls in love with Scarlett, complicating his desire to follow the cult's orders. Unwisely agreeing to take a weekend trip with Noah, Scarlett ends up the cult's prisoner, where her biological parents greet her with open arms and unfinished business.  As her memories become clearer, she realizes that escape is her only hope for staying alive. The story is filled with suspense and romance, as the reader wonders what will happen when she discovers Noah's betrayal and whose side he will ultimately take.

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