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On the Cusp
High school is behind you, but you’re not quite an independent adult. Today’s reviews cover one book of essays and stories written during–and one graphic novel memoir written about–the college years.
Marina Keegan was a talented writer who died days after graduating from Yale. She had lined up a position as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker and was on her way toward a literary career. The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of her writing, some of it originally published in the Yale Daily News.
Keegan was perhaps best known for fighting against the Wall Street recruiting machine that gathered up nearly a quarter of Yale graduates each year. She feared that the lure of money was derailing talented young people from following their passions, and she expressed that fear in her essay Even Artichokes Have Doubts, which is included in the collection.
Over Easy is a lightly fictionalized memoir of a life-changing period in Mimi Pond‘s youth. She was in art school but had run out of money, so she dropped out and got a real job–washing dishes in a diner in Oakland in the early ’70s. Pond is a cartoonist and humor writer. In addition to books, she has written for TV, including The Simpsons.
KEEGAN, Marina. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories. 208p. Scribner. Apr. 2014. Tr $23. ISBN 9781476753614. LC 2013030131.
Fans of HBO’s Girls will find a kindred spirit in the person of Marina Keegan. Sadly, this book, a collection of short stories and essays written before she turned 22, will likely be her only, as she was killed in a car crash just five days after graduating college. There is a sense of melancholy in most of the stories, of having to leave your youth behind and not feeling ready to join adulthood. Multiply that melancholia exponentially when you realize Keegan never got to experience adulthood herself. The very first entry is about a girl and the guy she is dating. They’ve never really defined their relationship and it was getting a little rocky when he dies in an accident. At the funeral, does she identify as his girlfriend or was she just a hookup that lasted too long? Even the two stories about women in middle age dealing with aging are still accessible to teen readers who can easily relate to underlying feelings of undesirability or being left behind. The last essay talks about how Marina would like to tell the universe “Here I am” before she dies. Though bittersweet, this collection accomplishes that feat and displays the talent she had to offer before her sad demise.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD
POND, Mimi. Over Easy. illus. by Mimi Pond. 271p. Drawn & Quarterly. Apr. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781770461536. LC 2013464704.
As a spectator, Madge admired the waitresses at the Imperial Café, “no-shit gals with names like Bea and Myrna, women who know about real life.” When Madge’s bank account runs out, the listless art school student sets aside her pencils and sketchbooks and dons an apron and order pad. The quirky diner staff and regulars she once spied on and sketched take on dimension as she gets to know them from the other side of the counter. Pond’s hazy green palette evokes the dreamy, aimless California of the 1970s. Her illustrations are unassuming but at times convey realism; readers will feel the grime on Madge’s hands as she wrestles to clean the Imperial’s unwieldy rubber floor mats. The graphic novelist’s narrative takes place in the middle territory after the age of the hippie fizzled but before the angry punk movement congealed. “The 60’s had been so exciting,” the protagonist reminisces, “but now the war was over and everyone was just treading bong water.” Despite the historical context, today’s young adults will sympathize with Madge, who feels she’s been dealt a bad hand by being born at a wrong time. Older teens about to accept the responsibilities of young adult life are sure to connect with the leap Madge makes from passive observer to active participant.—Rachael Myers-Ricker, Horace Mann School, NY
Filed under: Memoir, Nonfiction
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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