Whether memoir or realistic fiction, many teens respond to stories of struggle that are told from the heart. Here are three to recommend.
Let’s begin with a love story. We haven’t featured many love stories here. At least, not weepy, traditional ones that earn a starred review! Many are couched in historical fiction or the paranormal. Or literary fiction. Me Before You is plain good storytelling, and it has taken the beginning of 2013 by storm, earning a Best of the Month from Amazon and a place on the January IndieNext list. The hold list at my local public library is over 100 strong despite multiple copies. Why for teens? Although the novel is populated by adults, they are young adults. Louisa in particular has had limited life experience. And both readalikes provided by Paula in her review are perfect — The Fault in Our Stars is one of the most popular books in my library of the last few years. I can’t wait to share Me Before You with those fans.
The #1 spot on the January IndieNext list I just mentioned was given to our second book today, titled, simply, Y. This is a novel about two teenagers, connected in the closest of ways. One is an orphan scarred by her tortuous path through the foster care system and adoption. The other is the mother who abandoned her. Celona addresses identity, family and responsibility in her much-lauded debut.
And our third review is of a memoir. In Bend, Not Break, Ping Fu describes her experiences during China’s Cultural Revolution, and her eventual path to America where she became a successful businesswoman. There is quite a bit of recent, ongoing controversy surrounding Fu’s account, particularly of her years in China. Apparently, there are some date inaccuracies, and some readers question the truth of her version of events. See articles in Forbes or The Huffington Post for more detail and stay posted!
Adult/High School–Louisa Clark, 26, lives a sheltered life in a small English village. She still lives with her working-class family in a cramped house. She’s had the same mundane job for six years, and mediocre boyfriend for seven. But when the tea shop she works at abruptly shutters, Lou’s comfortable routine is gone, along with the earnings her family depends on. Applying for a position as a caregiver for a disabled man, she expects an elderly patient. What she finds instead is handsome, 30-something Will Traynor, former firm partner, world traveler, and bon vivant, left a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic following a devastating accident. Sarcastic and indifferent, Will has little interest in spending time with talkative, earnest Lou. He’s trapped inside a body that requires constant, intrusive medical care just to keep him alive. And at this point, he’s convinced that it’s not a life worth living. Lou’s broken in a different way, psychologically scarred by an event she’s never discussed. Moyes does a masterful job at slowly building a relationship between Will and Lou that transcends that of caretaker and patient,as the two get to know and appreciate one another, each expanding the other’s world. As they begin to fall in love, Lou becomes ever more determined to give Will reason to embrace life as it is. Me Before You is a spectacular, unconventional love story to savor, with well-developed, relatable characters. Give this dialogue-driven tearjerker to teens who enjoyed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012) or Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook (Farrar, 2008).–Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD
Adult/High School–This moving debut novel is narrated by Shannon, who was left at the front door of the YMCA in Victoria, B. C., when she was just a few days old. She spends the first five years of her life with various foster families, and then is adopted by a single woman with a daughter about Shannon’s age. As she moves into her teenage years, she finds herself wondering why? Why was she abandoned? Why can’t she quite fit in anywhere? Why does she have crazy blond curls and a lazy eye? Why did one of her foster fathers physically abuse her? Why does her adopted sister ignore her? Shannon’s story is interspersed with the story of another teenager, her mother, Yula, whose life was falling apart just at the moment that Shannon was born. Their stories converge, as Shannon learns the truth, finally meets both of her birth parents, and comes to realize that her own life is not as desperate as she might once have thought. Teens will be drawn into this story of two girls: one who is determined and resourceful, who makes mistakes but never abandons the sense of self that sits at her core; the other who means well but can’t manage to control her own life and allows events to overtake her, resulting in tragedy.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library
Adult/High School–Exiled from her homeland, China, Fu was 25 years old when she landed at a New Mexico airport with no money or connections and nowhere to go. Kidnapped and held hostage in a home with two children whom she is supposed to take care of, she only knew three English words. She yelled one of them–Help!–which brought police to her rescue. At 8, Fu lived a beautiful life in Shanghai until Mao’s Cultural Revolution labeled her family an enemy of the state and she was forcibly taken to live in a trash filled dorm room with a little sister she barely knew. After years of abuse, including a gang rape at age 10 and factory work at age 15, the Revolution wound down and she was able to pursue more independent interests. Her research and writing about China’s One Child policy landed her 4 black marks, which effectively sealed her fate as an enemy of the state. Fu ultimately became highly successful in America; she was part of the team that created Netscape and CEO of her own company. The book alternates chapters about her childhood in Chines with those about her time in America, using clean, clear, action filled prose, which will keep teens interested. She later focuses more on her startup business. Teens interested in entrepreneurship, international business and technology, and already hooked into the narrative of her life and resilience, will keep reading to the end, where more is revealed, including the fact that a bureaucrat risked her own life to assist Fu in escaping to America.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA