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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Touch

You may have noticed that I am reading and reviewing the work of more than my share of debut authors this year. This is partly because I was asked to publish an interview with a debut author every other month in the SLJ Teen newsletter, in conjunction with a review on this blog. In case you missed them — so far we have published interviews with Téa Obreht (author of The Tiger’s Wife) and Conor Grennan (author of Little Princes). The next interview will appear in the June 15th newsletter.

Now for Touch. I cannot lie, I completely fell under the spell of Alexi Zentner’s debut novel. It is difficult to be objective when a novel impresses to such an extent, and I won’t guarantee that Touch has wide teen appeal. But after a lot of thought and examination, I do believe it should be recommended to young adults who will enjoy it for the elements I list in the review.

This book centers on a 40-year old man looking back on a mystery from his youth. Touch could have come across as a group of short stories connected by his life musings, but Zentner’s construction is much more accomplished than that. As an adult, I enjoyed everything about this novel, but teen readers may be put off by the connective musings. It helps that the opening pages start right up with the story of the narrator’s grandfather at age 16. Both its strong sense of place and its larger-than-life characters make this novel immediately engaging. And did I mention the otherworldly creatures??

Interesting to note that Zentner won the O. Henry Award in 2008, for short story writing. Also, both Alexi Zentner and Téa Obreht live in Ithaca, New York. Is there something in the water?

ZENTNER, Alexi. Touch. 264p. Norton. 2011. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-0-393-07987-6. LC number unavailable.   Touch e1303480068111 Touch

Adult/High School–Jeannot arrives in the unspoiled north Canada woods at 16, having walked clear across the continent. After a disembodied voice speaks his name, his dog refuses to move from the spot, so he stays to pan the river for gold. His mediocre success attracts enough prospectors to establish the town of Sawgamet, and Jeannot builds a successful logging business. Decades later, his grandson Stephen, the narrator of Touch, returns home to Sawgamet to take over the local parish and sit with his mother during her last days. He relates stories about his grandfather and father and the women they loved, stories of their young adult years that have been told again and again, interspersed with memories of his own childhood. Some of the stories come across as tall tales; Stephen has difficulty “separating the myth from the reality.” Some are passionate, usually tragic, love stories. All serve to illuminate the central mystery of the novel: why Jeannot left Sawgamut as a young man and why he returned 30 years later, when Stephen was a boy. Although the stories take place in the past, they are vivid and thrilling, interspersed with sudden chilling moments of horror. Otherworldly creatures lurk in the woods and in the river, though they are not to be outdone by fire, blizzards, or the dangers of floating logs down the rapid river. Zentner’s flawless, fluid execution allows central moments of life, death, and love to layer into a haunting accumulation. Teens will be attracted to the adventure, passion, tragedy, horror, mystery, and the tales of men who live life to the fullest.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

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Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.

Comments

  1. Good observation about Ithaca – Tea, Alexi, and I are all friends, and get together regularly. Strange that we three have had our debut books come out at about the same time, and that they’ve all been reviewed in SLJ.

  2. Such savagery however only illuminates the deeply human love in the marrow of this novel which Zentner achieves with incredible grace and greatness of heart. .Aryn Kyle called it one of those rare novels that simultaneously takes hold of both your imagination and your heart and does not let go. His story Trapline was awarded the 2008 Narrative Prize and named to the Best American Short Stories 2009 list of 100 Other Distinguished Stories of 2008. His short stories Touch and The Adjuster were also selected for special mention in the 2008 Pushcart Prize anthology..He currently lives in Ithaca New York with his wife and two daughters.

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