Saturday, January 11, 2014
New YA Fiction from Laurie Halse Anderson and Joelle Charbonneau
This is a big weekend for hearing Laurie Halse Anderson and her new book, THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY; she'll be on National Public Radio today, and tomorrow the New York Times Book Review has comments on it from Jo Knowles, a perceptive Vermont-based author in the same field. Way to go! Commentators unfamiliar with the leap of "young adult" (YA) fiction into our culture's mainstream may focus on the age of the protagonist, Hayley Kincain, a senior in high school. But readers are onto Anderson for the sustained tension of her plots, the complexity of her characters, and the forms of courage they demonstrate. Quick summary: Hayley's dad, an Iraq/Afghanistan vet, complicates her life to such an extent that she has almost no memories of her life before this year's move "home" to the house her deceased grandmother owned. Is it even possible to have real friends, if your dad is your 24/7 care assignment and often violent? Before you brush this aside as a "teen" situation, try inverting the ages -- suppose the protagonist were the adult, trying to cope with a terrorism-damaged teen who is a threat to those around him? Yeah, this could happen to any of us, couldn't it?
Joelle Charbonneau's newest, INDEPENDENT STUDY, is book 2 in her "Testing" trilogy. If the "Hunger Games" hadn't already set such a high bar for dystopian competition, there would be a lot more attention for this new book. But even so, Charbonneau is rising rapidly on the lists, and I like 17-year-old Cia Vale -- isolated from her family, threatened by a manipulative government trying to recreate society after a nuclear and chemical war, and rapidly developing the survival skills and planning ability of a junior Jack Reacher. Courage, betrayal, and enormous impossible tasks to accomplish ... well, that's how adulthood looks from the teen years. Actually, that can be how adulthood looks from midlife, too,
Neither of these is a conventional mystery, yet each has that recognizable thriller pattern of high tension, risk, and investigation. For a venture across the genre lines into the titles that teens and adults are now sharing, I can recommend both. No need to read other Anderson books before the newest -- hers run independently -- but for the Charbonneau, the suspense will resonate more from a reading of The Testing before this new volume.