Title Girls are all that tie these three books together. Otherwise, the combination serves as a great example of the variety of books that appeal to different teen readers.
We begin with a rather intellectual historical fiction novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures. The tie-in to the arts is a great hook for young adults. Photography is popular at my school, whether for class, personal interest, or clubs like the school paper. However it is perhaps the exceptional teen who shows interest in the history of photography. Fortunately, this novel might just inspire that rare interest. At least one critic has questioned whether this would have been better marketed as a short story collection. I think teens are more likely to pick up a novel than a collection of stories, though many enjoy linked short stories — I’m thinking especially of Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland and The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat.
Second, a memoir, certainly a popular genre with teens. Those looking for a global setting, take note. The author of The Girl Who Fell to Earth writes of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, moving to Doha, Qatar to attend school, then to the Arabian Gulf, Cairo, even the mountains of Sinai.
In Wild Girls, Atwell has created a coming-of-age novel laced with violence and the supernatural. The small Appalachian town of Swan River also offers the explosive combination of desperate local poverty and a fancy boarding school.
There is an exceptionally good essay on Wild Girls published earlier this week in The Millions, written by Jessica Freeman-Slade. Her premise is that this novel would have been more powerful without its supernatural elements, that the real circumstances in small towns are enough to drive young women to violence. She cites several novels that are regular teen reader fare, including Girl, Interrupted, The Virgin Suicides, Swamplandia, and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Whether the supernatural disrupts the adult reading experience or not, I bet it will only make this novel more appealing to teens.
Adult/High School–In interrelated vignettes based loosely on the lives of eight real female photographers, Otto tells the story of the whole 20th century from the perspective of women who are also artists. Each of the characters struggles in some way with how to be a lover, a wife, a mother, a daughter, and still find the place where she can create art with her camera. Though their stories are told chronologically, the paths of these women cross in unexpected ways over the years, all over the world, both in person and through their photographs. And just as photographs are equations of light, composition, and the moment, so each of these women tries to “solve the mathematics of her various roles.” This is a beautiful but complex book that rewards patience, which will give older teens, especially those who are interested in art, photography, and the role(s) of women in society, something to think about.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library, CA
Adult/High School–Al-Maria’s memoir begins with the story of how Matar, her father, a young Bedouin, moved to Seattle and met her mother, Gale, at a bowling alley. Humor and obvious culture clashes defined their initial encounters. Matar shares how his family and other Bedouins lost their way when they stopped being nomads, and this drove him to emigrate to the United States, though illiterate in English and all alone. Gale and Matar forged a relationship that resulted in the birth of Sophia and Gale’s promise to raise their kids as Muslims. After three years in the United States, Matar returned to the Gulf. His family joined him there, but left when it was discovered that he had another family. Sophia returned to the Gulf at age 12 when she and her mother didn’t see eye to eye. Her culture clash in both worlds was a constant as she searched for her identity. The many references to stars and astronauts and aliens symbolize her inability to assimilate in either world. She realized that she needed to “reach escape velocity from myself” and when she acknowledged that, she was no longer governed by either parent and could strive for her individuality and let go of her rebellion. Teens will be intrigued by descriptions of life in the Middle East and the severe restrictions placed on girls. Images of falling and clinging abound and will resonate with teens struggling to find their place in a world full of confusion and chaos.–Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA
Adult/High School–From the Greek maenads through German wilde fraunen and the Salem witches to the girls of Swan River, something drives young women mad and gives them incredible power. In Swan River, it manifests as a one-time-only possession usually involving fire and death, a heritage that stretches back at least as far as the Civil War. Kate has grown up hearing these stories around the Girl Scout campfire and through town gossip, and knows firsthand what it looks like, thanks to her sister Maggie’s “episode.” Because her mother is Assistant to the Head, Kate is a student at the elite Swan River Academy, where she mixes with debutante-type rich girls and tries to avoid becoming one of the wild girls herself. Can she escape her background and Swan River’s legacy? One friend, Caroline, plans to study ethnography in college, possibly to figure out what has caused the Swan River “troubles.” Another friend, Willow, a local rich girl with a wild streak, seems interested in Mason, who grew up on the local commune and whose mother may (or may not) be a witch. Adding to Kate’s worries, the Head of the Academy is fascinated by the phenomenon and actively tries to induce the “wildness”–experiments that backfire horrifically at the end. This novel will appeal to lovers of Stephen King’s early books, like Carrie and The Shining, and Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven Boys (Scholastic, 2012).—Laura Pearle, Venn Consultants, Carmel, NY