February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens Review Unique Coming-of-Age Novels and a High-Wire Mystery

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The setting for The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is the hospital pediatric ward, while Billy Kinsey in The Tragic Age deals with having a dysfunctional family by reading Heidegger. The Storyspinner, a fantasy/mystery mash-up, should be just the ticket for readers looking for a new scrappy heroine for whom to cheer.

Five Stages of Andrew BrawleyHUTCHINSON, David. The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. S. & S./Simon Pulse. 336p. Jan. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781481403108.

Gr 10 Up—Andrew Brawley lives in a hospital. He sketches out his nightmares, dipping his fingers into the tortures of Patient F and releasing them on to paper. Aimee works with food yet doesn’t eat. Emma owns a disco ball. Jo would rather have the donut. Steven probably has somewhere better to be on his night off. Arnold won’t stop lending him books. Lexi has cancer and she has no hair, except for the dead raccoon of a wig bought by a one-time beauty queen. Trevor is going to die. And Rusty is on fire. Death, in a pencil skirt and floral top, is waiting for them all, because Andrew should be dead.

This is Andrew’s story, but there are many tiny stars in this galaxy of a book. This is a heartbreaking and painful title about healing. As Andrew draws closer to Rusty, the boy set on fire for being gay, he invests in not only his pediatric friends’ lives, but also in Rusty’s and his own.

This book was honestly quite amazing. It held me by the hands, and by the neck. It dealt with some issues not often discussed in mainstream YA fiction. As a straight girl, the aspect of the boys being gay didn’t bother me—it was a detail of the story and it was not about sexuality (not to say that would have been bad, just that most books that include this, make it about it). I like that this author shows that it can be there just as much as any other sexual orientation. And as a pastor’s kid who’s tired of sickly sweet “faith,” I appreciated the way religion is worked into the story in a light enough yet also an amazing way. (The priest was pretty great, I must say.) The relationships between characters were complex and realistic, powerful and beautiful. Flawless, an incredibly unique and beautiful masterpiece that I am keeping on my shelf for a long time.—Emma, age 18

METCALFE, Stephen. The Tragic Age. St. Martin’s Griffin. 320p. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250054418.

The Tragic AgeGr 9 Up—Meet Billy Kinsey—heir to a lottery fortune, closeted rock drummer, social critic, and king of (usually) useless trivia. Billy is content with cruising through the absurd world we live in by refusing to join in; he shuns cell phones and driver’s licenses, pulls straight Cs in class, and spends nights watching TV and days reading Heidegger. But then Twom Twomey enters his life, and Billy learns that the only way to live in an absurd world is by going a little outlaw.

Throughout most of this book, I was in love. Billy’s voice is the perfect blend of average teenage boy and philosopher, which gave the entire story an A. S. King aura. The plot, too, was compelling, which was surprising to me as I hate “teen finds himself” stories because they end up becoming monotonous diaries with the occasional burst of action. The Tragic Age, however, was interesting and set at the perfect pace, with just enough flashbacks for the reader to truly understand the disparity in Billy’s life. But the ending was a complete blur to me. Billy often cites examples of plot turns and then takes them back, saying “this is what ACTUALLY happened,” but at the end, the writing becomes so jumbled that one is completely in the dark about what happens to the characters when they go AWOL in Tijuana. It is a shame, too, because the court scene at the end and the wrap-up of the book is lovely, but the climax and falling actions were so unclear that I had no idea what was going on.

Also, the characters in this book were stereotyped to within an inch of their fictional lives. Deliza was the sexy Latina (which is actually a very harmful, racist trope), Twom was the punk with a heart of gold, and Ephraim was both the nerdy hacker sidekick and the tragic stock gay character. It was a huge disappointment to me to see Billy acknowledge his privilege as a wealthy white boy and in the very next paragraph, sexualize Deliza or stereotype his classmates (actual quote: “The Asian kids kept studying.”). These aspects of the book started making me wonder whether or not it was a parody, because some parts (“High School High”) were blatantly parodies. All in all, the ending and stereotypes ruined this book for me, which is a shame, because the first three-quarters were five-star-worthy.

I was drawn in by the comparison on the back, originally, wondering how on earth a Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders mash-up could possibly work. This seemed rather inaccurate to me, but I do enjoy the “teenage boy finds himself” premise, as it is rarely written, and even more rarely written well.

This book is pretty accessible to all teen readers; Billy’s typical teenage boy demeanor is relatable to most, and his trivia, quirks, and moments of weakness will draw in the sappy readers. However, critical readers ought to take this book with a grain of salt. It is full of stereotypes and conflicting actions, so thinking too hard on the book can give you a headache, and if you’re staunchly against faux-deep hipster philosophy like I am, save yourself the trouble of trying to glean the “deeper meaning.”—Aroog K., age 15

WALLACE, Becky. The Storyspinner. (The Keepers’ Chronicles: Bk. 1) S. & S./Margaret McElderry Bks. 432p. Mar. 2015. ISBN 9781481405652.

The StoryspinnerGr 9 Up—When Johanna’s father falls from his high-wire and dies, their family is kicked out of the Performer’s Camp. His death also results in the setting forth of a group of Keepers looking for a lost princess, the only one who can claim the throne and save her kingdom from chaos. Meanwhile, Johanna needs to provide for her family and accidentally steps on to the land of an irritatingly honor-bound lord, Rafael DeSilva. He hires her to entertain a group of nobles who could plunge the country into civil war. And all this time, girls that look like Johanna are turning up murdered.

This book was honestly so good I read it in one sitting and can’t wait for the rest of the series to come out. All the characters are just so alive. They have real human worries and joys and passions and reactions. Even the otherworldly Keepers were relatable. I loved the twisted and worried love that develops between the couples. And the friendships are just exquisite. I especially loved each character’s doubts and pitfalls—these made them so much more believable.

And the story! Beautifully intertwined points of view and amazing scenery complement one of the most original stories I’ve read in a long time. All the while, we see commentary on domestic abuse, what family means, and racism. This book is truly a literary masterpiece. Johanna’s growing and evolving relationship with Rafi was brilliant. I also really enjoyed watching as the two groups got closer together. Fans of Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (Bloomsbury, 2005) will enjoy this as well as anyone who loves strong characters that jump off the page and pull you back in.—Alexandra, age 15

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Dodie Ownes About Dodie Ownes

Dodie Ownes left the glamorous world of retrospective conversion and disco to jump on the library vendor train. Since then, she has been learning at the feet of the masters about all things library. Dodie lives in Golden, Colorado, where even the sign which arches the main street says "Howdy."

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