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New Books from Three Popular Authors
Rainbow Rowell’s many, many teen readers are definitely not the target audience for her summer novel, Landline, but no matter. Rowell’s signature clever dialogue and snappy one-liners are in generous supply as one women tries to save her marriage. And while a failing marriage is not a favorite literary topic among teens, this novel also takes the reader back to the college romance that began it all.
I doubt many teens know Chris Bohjalian by name, but he has written more than a few books with plenty of appeal, including The Double Bind (which uses The Great Gatsby in twisty, original ways), The Light in the Ruins, and The Night Strangers. He seems to be constantly challenging himself, moving from genre to genre effortlessly. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is about a teenager who runs away after her parents are involved in a terrible accident. She faces homelessness, drug abuse, and prostitution, but also finds the possibility for redemption.
Emma Straub is going to be a new author for most young adult readers (though you may know her for last year’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures). I picked up The Vacationers toward the end of the summer mostly because I had heard such good things and thought it would be a light, quick vacation read for myself, partly because I had this niggling feeling that the potential for teen appeal was there. Well, I am so glad I did. It’s both one of my personal favorite reads of the summer and a great recommendation for teens. I would go so far as to say that this is 2014’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which, after all, did end up winning an Alex Award. Both books are very funny, but they are also warm. It isn’t cruel humor. It’s truthful, respectful, and entertaining.
I think The Vacationers‘ appeal for teens lies in the pitch-perfect depiction of how it feels to be a teen living within a quirky family. Straub gets everything right — how embarrassing a mother can be to her teen daughter; the desire to keep the most personal things private warring with the need to tell someone; the mortification of making a mistake that is loudly displayed on Facebook; the yearning to become a completely different person once you leave parents behind and head to college.
Don’t miss it. The Vacationers was also just the book to tell my colleagues about on the first days of school when everyone asked what I read over the summer, or asked for new recommendations for them.
ROWELL, Rainbow. Landline. 308p. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250049377. LC 2014008538.
Georgie McCool writes for a TV sitcom in Los Angeles, and is supposed to go to Omaha for Christmas with her husband Neal and their two children . But she, along with writing partner and best friend Seth, have just gotten their big break from the network—a pilot for their own show, which is due on December 27. Neal packs up the kids and leaves without her, sending Georgie into a tailspin. (She thought he’d stay home too). She can’t face going into their house alone and goes home to mom. Strangely, the landline in her old room connects her to a Neal from the past—right after college, during the holidays, on another occasion when he also left her to go to Omaha and it wasn’t clear if their relationship was over. Georgie knows that Neal showed up on her doorstep on Christmas Day to propose to her back then, but doesn’t know if her conversations in the present/past will change the future. Teens will miss some of the dated references to TV shows, movies, and music, as well as the experience of talking on a landline, but no matter. There’s enough witty dialogue, romance, and angst in Georgie’s relationship with Neal and sexy Seth (“He fell back against the closet, kicking it gently, then resting his foot against it like he was modeling orange chinos. (He was wearing orange chinos)”) along with fun subplots, such as the protagonist’s 18-year-old sister and a pizza delivery boy, to keep teens entertained with this enjoyable and light read.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, CA
BOHJALIAN, Chris. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. 288p. Doubleday. Jul. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780385534833. LC 2013034613.
Sixteen-year-old Emily is a high school junior in Vermont, an Emily Dickinson fan, the only child of only children, a girl with a only a few friends and some small impulse control issues. Then the nuclear plant—where her father is a lead engineer and her mother is the public relations office—has a catastrophic meltdown. Not only were both her parents onsite, and thus probably dead, but word soon leaks out that her father may have been responsible for the accident, due to being drunk on the job. Emily, certain she will be hated by the thousands who are now evacuating their homes, slips away from her teachers and classmates and sets out on her own. Now the teen is an entirely different person: she is known as Abby; she lives in a drug dealer’s apartment, or in various shelters, or in an igloo made of frozen bags of leaves; she earns quick money by “servicing” truckers at the truck stop or by stealing; she begins cutting herself. Then she meets nine-year-old Cameron, and although she never liked kids, she finds new purpose in taking care of him—until, that is, he becomes dangerously ill. Teens will be drawn into Emily’s story, which is compelling, tragic, and moving, with all of her bad decisions seemingly logical but motivated by her flawed understanding of situations.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library
STRAUB, Emma. The Vacationers. 292p. Riverhead. May 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781594631573. 2013037110.
In this perfect concoction, family and friends come together for two weeks of summer vacation in an idyllic hillside villa on the island of Mallorca. Franny is a freelance writer who travels and writes magazine articles about the food of different regions. She’s also a determined cook and hostess, taking charge of every detail of the group’s comfort. But she’s not speaking to her husband, a magazine editor recently dismissed for sleeping with an employee only a few years older than their daughter, Sylvia. The teen cannot wait to start at Brown University in the fall, where she plans to become a completely different person. All she wants from this vacation is to lose her virginity and try to forget her best friend’s betrayal. Cue Joan (pronounced Joe-ahhhn), the gorgeous local college boy Franny has hired to tutor Sylvia in Spanish. Also in attendance, Franny’s best friend of 40 years, Charles, to provide comfort and counsel. Charles and his husband, Lawrence, are waiting to hear whether they’ve been chosen to adopt a baby boy, something about which Charles is secretly having second thoughts. Sylvia’s older brother Bobby and Bobby’s much-older girlfriend, Carmen fly in from Miami. Carmen has been trying to fit in with the family for years, but they don’t give her a chance. Straub fleshes out all of these characters, effortlessly illuminating their foibles and mistakes, mitigated by the grace of forgiveness and familial understanding. Just as a great recipe is balanced and spiced, so Straub mixes the stress and comedy of a family vacation spent in close quarters to delightful effect.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
Filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Weekly Reviews
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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