Thursday, November 3, 2016

YA Books for Boys: The Bad Decisions Playlist, My Brilliant Idea, Character Driven, and The Haters

According to the U.S. Department of Education, school-age boys read a grade and a half lower than girls.  Boys read more comic books, baseball cards, magazines and non-fiction than novels. This is not surprising when one considers boys identify with men, who, in general, don’t read as many books as women.  Boys’ tastes in books reflect how their brains are wired.  Michael Gurian, author of Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents,writes that boys’ brains engage in less cross-hemisphere activity than girls’. In other words, boys use only half of their brain at any given time.  That means that when boys read, they need an extra jolt of sound, color, motion or some physical stimulation to get their brains up to speed. Thus boys prefer reading sports, adventure stories and fantasies.  Give boys the type books they prefer at a level of difficulty that they are comfortable with and they won’t be as reluctant to read. I am recommending four books this month that are not the typical action adventure or fantasy choices that we think of boys choosing, but rather realistic reads focusing on manic witty self-deprecating  main characters with a penchant for trouble.

The Bad Decisions Playlist by Michael Rubens focuses on Austin Methune, a musically gifted teen, who is his own worst enemy.  Austin's mishaps usually involve trying to impress girls and avoiding schoolwork.  He exhausts his single mother, who has a new boyfriend, and is threatening to send Austin off to a private school  Then his absentee father Shane, a rock star who has made plenty of bad decisions himself, shows up at the door.  Although Austin is angry at him, he is intrigued with the opportunity to play music with him.  Along for the ride are his would be tutor/girlfriend Josephine and his ex best friend/drummer Todd, who never seem to be able to stop Austin from impulsive decisions. This coming of age tale involves sex, drugs, parent issues and romance, and is filled with hilarity and sympathetic characters.  

My Brilliant Idea (and How It Caused My Downfall) was written by Stuart David, the front-man for Belle and Sebastian. Jack Dawson, "the Jackdaw," is a Ferris Bueller type character, whose madcap money making schemes lead him down a rabbit hole of crazy decisions.  Hoping to avoid a future working in a factory next to his dad, he wants to design and market an app to keep kids from getting in to trouble for daydreaming in class. Unfortunately,  Elsie, an eccentric genius who hates Jack, is the only one he knows who has the brains to do the programming.  Elsie will do so in exchange for Jackdaw arranging for her to see her crush Drew naked.  Jack approaches Drew's art school friend Yatesy to arrange the viewing, in exchange for finding someone to take the fall for a fighting incident, which will get Yatesy expelled.  Needless to say, complications ensue.  Jack is an incorrigible dreamer who won't take no for an answer.  Yatesy tells Jack, "Your mind is diseased. It's a sewer.  But I think I'm starting to like you."  Readers, too, will enjoy Jack and the quick paced hilarity and British humor of this novel.

Character Driven by David Lubar (Sophomore and Other Oxymorons) introduces 17-year-old Cliff Sparks who struggles with an angry unemployed father, an overworked mother, two jobs, a dwindling college fund and the recognizable high school bullies.  His one goal is losing his virginity, preferably with his crush Jillian, but any girl will do.  Breaking the fourth wall, Cliff engages the reader in his tale of woe, where close friends, art and books are his only solace. As the story progresses, readers work to decide what is fact and what is fiction in this first person "gotcha" style meta-fiction. For example, Cliff presents an idealized sexual encounter, but then follows it up with a much more awkward but realistic version of the same encounter, making this a book best suited for older readers. 

Finally, The Haters by Jesse Andrews (Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl) is a tale about three jazz camp escapees who form a band and hit the road. Bassist Wes and drummer Corey, are best friends, obsessed with music and hating on everything they encounter that isn't great.  Jazz camp misfits,who call themselves "jazz-nerd chaff" or the "worst of the best" at "Jazz Giants of Tomorrow Intensive Summer Workshop" meet Ash, a lead guitarist with a sense of adventure, who talks them into forming a band and going on a "Summer of Hate Tour." They are both crushing on her and will pretty much follow her anywhere. They load their instruments in her SUV and head South. Needless-to-say, their ideas for their world tour do not go as planned.  Jealousies and travel logistics, not to mention, lack of band cohesion make this a hilarious romp. Asides within the text, such as lists of potential band names, fake Wikipedia entries and screenplay-like flashbacks, help to create a unique contemporary read.