Today we highlight three very different spring novels that all hinge on a crucial element of teen appeal — forging one’s own identity.
Daniel Wallace is best known as the author of Big Fish. The Kings and Queens of Roam combines folklore and light fantasy elements with family drama, in particular that of two sisters who have been inseparable since their parents died 7 years earlier. But don’t take it from me — listen to Wallace describe his new novel. The first chapter is available on the Simon & Schuster website.
The Third Son is a beautifully told coming-of-age debut that encompasses love, war, immigration and sibling rivalry. In an interview on TaiwaneseAmerican.org, author Julie Wu reveals that the novel is inspired by her parent’s story. I also enjoyed reading about the importance of Taiwanese folk songs in her writing process on largehearted boy.
Anna Stothard‘s The Pink Hotel was long-listed for the 2012 Orange Prize (it was published in the U.K. in 2011), and follows an unnamed teenage narrator who flies from London to Los Angeles on a quest to learn about the mother who abandoned her. She begins at her mother’s memorial, a party at a seedy L.A. hotel. As the author puts it, “The novel is occupied by the fine-line between self-discovery and self-destruction.”
Adult/High School–A girl trapped under the thumb of her wicked older sister, a town bearing a nebulous curse, opinionated ghosts, and the presence of magic all come together in this adult fairy tale. The town of Roam was home to a silk factory, established when Elijah McAllister captured silk peddler Ming Kai in China, dragged him to America, and exploited Ming’s silk-making knowledge. McAllister’s continued unsavory dealings left both Roam and his bloodline cursed. Several generations later, the McAllister sisters are living out the curse. Their parents’ untimely deaths leave Rachel in the care of her older sister, Helen. Rachel, who is blind, is beautiful but can’t see it; Helen’s face is so disfigured that she has to trick people into looking at her. Out of jealousy, Helen convinces Rachel that she is hideously ugly, and that people commenting on her beauty are lying to her. Helen further deceives Rachel, telling her that Roam is full of life-threatening hazards; a wondrous, safe land exists a bridge away, but Rachel will never reach it because she would never get there alive. Eventually Rachel decides to brave the “dangers” and run away to the beautiful land. Her disappearance and ensuing events have a lasting, dramatic effect on the town–and on Helen. This book will resonate with teens as they are particularly attuned to issues of family power struggles and jealousy. Adding to the book’s appeal is the smooth integration of the fantastical elements, making their existence completely credible.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA
Adult/High School–Saburo knows little of his parents’ love. At five, he is blamed for the death of his brother; he is regularly beaten, and starved. A lonely child, he has little interest in school, preferring to discover the secrets of nature. Saburo lives in Taiwan, an island nation that had been ruled by the Japanese for nearly 50 years. At the end of World War II, however, it was handed to the Republic of China, the government displaced by the Chinese Communists. It was not a peaceful transfer of power. During an air attack, eight year-old Saburo finds himself running for his life with an enchanting girl named Yoshiko. She would become the love of his life. But it is a long and twisted path until they meet again. Saburo ricochets between fear of challenging the old ways that bind him to a cruel family and a quixotic passion to live free in America. Many teens will appreciate his need to break from his cultural obligation to his parents. And his impossible dreams rely on his own intelligence and drive to accomplish. This beautifully told coming-of-age story takes readers from Taiwan, a nation inflicted with a perpetual identity crisis, to the United States, where a dreamer like Saburo can accomplish the impossible. Teens who enjoyed William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (Morrow, 2009) will also enjoy Saburo’s fictional odyssey.–Diane Colson, formerly at Palm Harbor Library, FL
Adult/High School–Gritty uncertainty and loneliness permeates The Pink Hotel like the L.A. smog. Floating through her estranged mother’s funeral as if a ghost herself, a teenager finds her last opportunity to get to know the parent who left her as soon as she was born. She seizes upon the drunkenness of the revelers at the wake and steals her mother’s suitcase full of clothes, letters, pictures, and, it turns out, other people’s memories. She’s run away from her own problems in London–a dad who never wanted her and his girlfriend who would rather drug herself into oblivion then form a parental relationship–and almost immediately gets caught up in the mystery swirling around her mother’s life and death. The book’s nameless protagonist smokes, drinks, has sex, lies, steals, and generally inserts herself under false pretenses into the lives of the people her mother left behind. Until the very last page, it’s never quite clear if she’s looking for answers about her mother’s life or a new one of her own. For better or worse, she gets them both. The slowly unfurling plot and Stothard’s quiet prose make The Pink Hotel a good choice for teens who loved the glamourous seediness of Francesca Lia Block’s “Weetzie Bat” books (HarperCollins) but are ready to tackle the much more adult themes that come with pain, sex, and secrets.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Queens Borough Public Library, Jamaica, NY