With the latest entry in our series of teen opinions, welcome guest blogger Jess deCourcy Hinds:
This fall, my teen library patrons and I discovered a new literary phenomenon: the Quiet Book in Disguise.
The Quiet Book in Disguise masquerades as a dramatic, high-concept title, but its actual execution is subtle, slow and cerebral.
My team of teen book reviewers read a number Q.B.I.D.s with patience and insight, and were kind enough to share their thoughts with me.
According to a 10th grade girl, Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber (Norton) will “definitely” hold teenagers’ interest even though it is “very slow.”
From the book jacket, it appears to be a compelling story about a teenage girl running away from home and living on the streets of Miami. But once you start reading, you find that the girl’s story is less of an adventure and more of a gradual unfolding of secrets. Much of the book concerns the girl’s middle-aged parents, Miami real estate and politics, and gourmet baking. “There are moments of shock and passion,” my student wrote in her book review, but overall, the book just leaves you “feeling content.” It’s a mellow read, but as my student said insightfully, “it leaves your heart soaring and satisfied.”
It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic event in history than Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury) manages to explore the subject in a soft-spoken way.
Focusing on the weeks before the storm—the build-up rather than the eye of the storm—the novel is a portrait of a fractured, impoverished family who are anticipating yet another crisis. One 9th grader said he would have rather have read about the hurricane itself, while a 10th grader said she loved the pre-storm premise, and story of siblings. “This book shows you always have the love of family, no matter what,” she said, hugging the book to her chest.
A story about a librarian who kidnaps (i.e. “borrows”) her young, sensitive, possibly gay patron to save him from homophobic parents sounds like a rip-roaring read. However, Rebecca Makkai’s The Borrower (Viking), is as ruminative, plodding—and charming—as the librarian heroine herself. It is a thoughtful book that celebrates the literary life, and intellectual freedom.
One 10th grade girl said she “stayed up thinking about this book all night.” She also said she felt “attached” to the characters and loved the complexity of characters’ and their different points of view. She also loved that the book was realistic, without an artificially happy ending.
Discussing these three books with my patrons reminded me how lucky I am to be a librarian of sophisticated teen readers.
Librarians: do not fear the Quiet Book in Disguise!
Jess deCourcy Hinds is the library director of Bard High School Early College Queens and a freelance writer. Her essays, stories and reviews have appeared in Newsweek, Ms., Reuters.com, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, School Library Journal and literary journals.