As we discussed yesterday, there is no one easy answer to what makes a book have teen appeal, but certainly questions of identity and personal discovery are among the most potent that teens encounter. As different as these three books are, they all share a profound interest in how we determine who we are and how we relate to the people around us, and as such all three should be greatly interesting to teens.
CAHALAN, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. 288p. Free Pr. 2012. Tr $25. ISBN 9781451621372.
MORTON, Kate. The Secret Keeper: A Novel. 463p. Atria. 2012. pap. $26.99. ISBN 9781439152805.
Adult/High School–It’s 1960. Laurel, 16, has climbed up into the tree house for a few minutes of quiet, away from her four younger siblings. Dreaming of the theatre and an especially handsome boy, she’s distracted by voices outside. As she breaks her reverie and glances toward the yard, Laurel sees her mother, Dorothy, murder a strange man. The shocking images, and all the unanswered questions about that day, are still burning in Laurel’s mind more than 50 years later. Now her elderly mother is dying. Middle-aged Laurel becomes a detective of sorts, working backwards through Dorothy’s life to discover her own answers. The narration alternates between young Dorothy (Dolly) and her life in London during World War II, and present-day Laurel. Dolly’s story is filled with ambition, passion, and betrayal, with unexpected twists that astonish Laurel–and readers. Teens will enjoy Dolly’s bold seduction of Jimmy, a good-hearted young man who falls madly in love with her. Dolly, in turn, is obsessed with her beautiful neighbor, Vivien. Despite the chapters written from Laurel’s point of view, this lengthy novel thrums with youthful energy. The World War II backdrop, peopled with young men and women trying to survive until adulthood, is reminiscent of Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear (both Spectra, 2010). The plot twists as unexpectedly as Chris Bohjalian’s novels, particularly The Double Bind (Crown, 2007). A fascinating read.–Diane Colson, Palm Harbor Library, FL
CROTHERS, Tim. The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster. 214p. photogs. Scribner. 2012. Tr $26. ISBN 9781451657814.
Adult/High School–Phiona Mutesi, a girl from the slums of Katwe, Uganda, was nine years old when she wandered into Robert Katende’s clubhouse for kids to watch her brothers play chess. She was intrigued by the game and, unlike many of the other children, she was willing to sit through the many hours it takes to learn how to play well. She succeeded in beating her brothers and her tutor, and eventually made her way to the National Championship and on to larger competitions where she and her Ugandan team (made up of her brothers and other children from the slums) became International champions, something no one expected. While this is Phiona’s story, it is also the story of Robert Katende. His abiding faith led him to create a safe haven for slum kids in the hopes of giving them a refuge from the daily struggle with incredible poverty, neglect, disease, and a hopeless future. Phiona’s story, along with those of her family and friends and the teacher who brought chess to Katwe, will break readers’ hearts. Phiona’s perseverance, courage, faith, and hope will have the very same readers rooting for her success. Phiona is a 16 now and still hopes to achieve her goal of Grandmaster. With Katende, the chess community, and many other people working behind the scenes for her, Phiona has a chance to reach her goal. American teens will enjoy a new perspective on a life they will find to be completely different from their own.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA