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Two Very Different Memoirs
When I picked up An Age of License a couple months ago, I had not read Lucy Knisley’s Alex Award-winning graphic novel Relish. (We did not review Relish for AB4T last year–we thought it was a YA publication.)
I read An Age of License all in one sitting, and basically fell in love with it. The next morning I checked Relish out of my library. Admittedly, Relish speaks to me a little less, but I definitely see the teen appeal. An Age of License is a perfect New Adult book. It is about that stage in life when independence is still new, yet the commitments of adulthood are beckoning. It is a time when it is not too late to try out different priorities and lifestyles. Brilliantly, An Age of License takes the form of a travelogue. Traveling is the perfect opportunity to free one’s mind from the routine–to be open to new possibilities.
European travel and food are two of my very favorite things, so I had to carefully examine my personal preferences versus teen appeal here. Was I projecting my own appreciation onto teen readers? Obviously, in publishing this review–and starring it–I decided our tastes collide in this case! Many of the teens that I work with travel during vacations. Several go on exchange to France, Spain or Australia for a number of weeks of months. I also think that teens like to imagine what it will be like to have more freedom to make their own decisions. And teen artists will love this book. It has a beautiful simplicity. It is honest and straight-forward–qualities that teens appreciate.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer has a history of popularity with teens. It also made the rounds as a required text in schools, and was made into a movie by Sean Penn in 2007, starring then up-and-comer Emile Hirsch. (This is not to be confused with Into Thin Air, the Everest disaster book that won Krakauer a 1998 Alex Award.)
Into the Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, who left his family and friends, abandoned all material things, and ended up in Alaska, where he was found dead of starvation. Krakauer traced his route and those he encountered in the months before his death, trying to figure out why his life ended as it did. In The Wild Truth, Chris’s sister Carine answers some of the questions that continue to haunt readers of Into the Wild. I think the key to appeal here may be the idealism that many teens feel they share with Chris McCandless. And she reveals the inner workings of their very dysfunctional family.
* KNISLEY, Lucy. An Age of License: A Travelogue. illus. by Lucy Knisley. 189p. Fantagraphics. Sept. 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9780345544926. LC 2014023994.
This short, absorbing travelogue is based on a journal the graphic novelist kept during her travels through Europe and Scandinavia in September 2011. Heartbroken after ending a relationship, Knisley accepted an invitation to participate in a Comics convention in Norway, which inspired a month of visiting friends and family. Shortly before leaving, Knisley met a boy from Stockholm, Henrik, who invited her to visit him, too. Knisley chronicles her pre-trip jitters (traveling “unhomes” you), as they vied with excited anticipation of a new perspective on life. The conference went well, as did her time with Henrik. So well that he accompanied her to Berlin for a few days, and arranged to meet her in Paris for a romantic finish to her adventures. It was while visiting a friend in Bordeaux that she met an older man who termed this period of her life “L’Age Licence”—a time of exploration before familial or career obligations make experimentation impossible, a time to decide what kind of life you want to have. As in the Alex Award-winning Relish (First Second, 2013), friends, family and food continue to be Knisley’s preoccupations. Predominantly black & white panels are punctuated by full-page color paintings of a pretty view, a delectable snack, the portrait of a friend, or a dress in a shop window. The many teens who travel for exchange programs, volunteer activities, or family trips will recognize Knisley’s nervousness about leaving the familiarity of home, the freedom and pleasures of exploration, insecurity about the future, and the revelations afforded by time away from routine. This ingenuous and wise travel narrative will charm readers of any age.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
MCCANDLESS, Carine. The Wild Truth. 304p. HarperOne. Nov. 2014. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9780062325143. LC 2014011106.
It was an adventure of self-discovery gone tragically wrong, and the compelling story of Chris McCandless’s trek into the wilderness of Alaska that Jon Krakauer pieced together in his best seller, Into the Wild (Anchor, 1997), left readers with many questions about motives. As a recent college graduate who left home, he ceremoniously burned his money, abandoned his automobile, and took odd jobs under an assumed name as he traveled across America. Was McCandless searching for himself or was there something more—something from which he was fleeing? That he was unprepared for living off the land was obvious, but was he reckless to the point of being self-destructive? His sister, Carine, who provided Krakauer with information she asked be kept confidential, now reveals the dysfunctional family dynamics that shaped McCandless and impelled him to seek refuge in solitude and purpose in an authentic and truthful life. She recounts the secrets, lies, manipulations, violence, and bullying of her parents that caused Chris to leave home and cut himself off from their destructive behaviors. His only remorse was that he was leaving Carine behind to fend for herself. Much of the memoir recounts her personal grief journey and her struggle to find healing with her parents as the years passed and the book and movie made of her brother a cultural icon. But the light she shines on family dynamics that Krakauer only hinted at will attract and satisfy teens fascinated by the mystery behind the tragic, brief life of Chris McCandless.—John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY
Filed under: Memoir, Nonfiction, 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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