April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

In Sync | Young Adult Authors Collaborate

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Three exciting, new young adult novels feature plots ranging from a realistic story about two girls attempting a friendship before the start of college to postapocalyptic sci-fi in which the world has become a frozen and inhospitable wasteland. Each is the result of an author collaboration; their deftly blended styles produce poignant and compelling works with well-crafted characters, intricate settings, and thought-provoking themes. The novels are sure to stimulate discussion—and possibly collaborations —among teens.

In Roomies (Little, Brown, Dec. 2013; Gr 8 Up), Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando rely on alternating perspectives to great effect as they portray a budding friendship between two young women on opposites sides of the country. Self-assured, with a boyfriend and an array of friends, social butterfly Elizabeth (EB) has little in common with frazzled Lauren, who, between two part-time jobs and helping her parents care for her younger siblings, has little time for friends. But when EB learns that Lauren will be her roommate at Berkeley, she sends the girl an enthusiastic email, and, despite a shaky beginning, the two begin to forge a genuine connection.

Zarr and Altebrando are sensitive to the nuances of social interaction among adolescents, and their use of dual first-person narration illustrates how seemingly minor remarks can result in insecurity or hurt feelings; for example, EB casually asks whether Lauren can buy a microwave or a mini fridge for their room, unwittingly provoking anxiety in the less-privileged Lauren. Similarly, EB initially interprets Lauren’s sporadic replies as disinterest, when, in fact, Lauren’s limited spare time and computer access mean days go by before she can respond to EB’s emails.

For both EB and Lauren, this new friendship becomes an anchor in a time of instability: the teenagers clash with their family and friends and deal with romantic entanglements as they cope with the strain of leaving home for the first time to start an exhilarating—but potentially frightening—new chapter of their lives. From EB losing her standing in the social circle she once took for granted after a break-up to Lauren’s mixed feelings when her parents release her from her babysitting duties so that she can enjoy her summer, this book captures the experiences of teenagers on the verge of adulthood. Readers will find these well-developed and sympathetic characters relatable, and the depiction of encounters with unfamiliar people and new experiences will resonate with adolescents.

“The world was irretrievably broken, filled with refuse, from Garbage Country to the poisoned oceans, and the rest was an uninhabitable frozen nether land; what kind of place was this to grow up in? What kind of world had they been borne to?” Melissa de la Cruz and husband Michael Johnston have often informally worked together on her books; in their latest, Frozen (Putnam, Sept. 2013; Gr 7 Up), the two joined forces to write a dystopian novel about teenagers willing to risk their lives to escape their icy cold setting for the Blue, a peaceful and uncorrupted world—but one that may not actually even exist.

When Natasha Kestal has the chance to flee the city of “New Vegas,” she relies on mercenary Ryan “Wes” Wesson and his crew to seek out the Blue. Both teens are courageous and determined, even willing to manipulate each other: Nat has no reservations about using her looks to ensure that Wes won’t abandon her, and Wes flirts with Nat in the hopes of gaining information about the round blue stone the girl wears around her neck. However, the two begin to rely on and develop genuine feelings for each other as the danger mounts.

Readers will enjoy the budding romance between these strong-willed protagonists, but it’s the world-building where de la Cruz and Johnston excel. As a result of damage wrought to the environment, a glass of water is a luxury, and many are willing to steal to pay for a hit of oxygen; meanwhile, society has devolved to the point where the government permits humans to be bought and sold as slaves. The descriptions of “thrillers,” or desperate zombielike creatures living on the outskirts of the city, are particularly horrifying. This portrayal of a world corrupted both physically and morally will stay with readers, who will anxiously await volumes two and three in this planned trilogy.

A sense of isolation permeates David Levithan and Andrea Cremer’s Invisibility (Philomel, 2013; Gr 8 Up). Sixteen-year-old Stephen has been invisible since birth due to a curse placed upon him by his malevolent grandfather. His absent father provides him with money, and the youth lives comfortably, surviving on deliveries and spending his days walking the streets of New York City. However, it’s an ultimately empty existence: with his mother deceased and his father unwilling to be a part of his life, the boy’s interaction with the world is limited to reading books, watching DVDs, and observing the other residents of his apartment building—until he meets Elizabeth, the first person who can see him.

While Elizabeth’s life has been fairly conventional compared with Stephen’s, she, too, is well-acquainted with alienation: her brother, Laurie, was recently assaulted after coming out as gay, and soon after their father soon walked out on the family. The experience has left Elizabeth fragile and wary of others (“When I let fear get the best of me, I hate myself. I react like a dog who’s been beaten; anytime I see a broom, I flinch and snarl”), and she shuts out the world by immersing herself in her love of art and comic books. However, friendship—and love—blossoms between these two outsiders. They discover why Stephen was cursed, and soon the inevitable confrontation between the boy and his cruel and powerful grandfather takes place as this romance takes a dark turn.

Although paranormal elements are significant, the relationship between the protagonists is central to the novel. Through alternating first-person narratives, the authors convey the teenagers’ willingness to welcome new possibilities and down the walls they’ve constructed to protect themselves. For Stephen, something as simple as a conversation with another person is life-altering (“She has no idea what it’s like to be an outsider to the outside world…and then to suddenly be let inside”), while Elizabeth realizes that opening up to others can mean acceptance and even love. Though the novel ends on an unresolved note, both characters have begun to heal, emphasizing the power of their strong bond.

Through their use of alternating narrators, these books provide a rich sense of perspective. Adolescent readers will particularly appreciate how the authors depict different characters’ responses to similar situations, creating nuanced, multi-layered stories.

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Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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