There are young adult novels. And then there are young adult novels. Some meander through predictable, silly plots and leave you with a transparent message. I just dropped a book – a cross between the movie Groundhog Day and the movie Mean Girls – because it left me empty.
Gary D. Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars, a book I gave up, has written an unbelievably thoughtful book in Trouble. Even though I didn’t care for the Wednesday Wars, I found Schmidt’s writing style fun. I thought his writing deserved a second chance. Little did I know the second chance I would give Schmidt would be one of the finest young adult novels I’ve ever read. Did I say ever?
The first line of Trouble reads Henry Smith’s father told him that if you build your house far enough away from trouble, then trouble will never find you. This single sentence sets the reader up for a story he won’t want to walk away from.
Henry Smith, a fourteen-year-old, lives with his family in idyllic Blythbury-by-the-Sea. He is far away from trouble, or so he’s been told. But trouble reside right under his family’s roof. His older brother, Franklin, is not who he appears to be; his older sister is hiding her own secrets; and Henry’s parents hide even more secrets. But that’s what you do in Blythbury-by-the-Sea — you appear calm, cool, and composed on the surface. You’re rich and powerful, unlike the town of Cambodian refugees living on the other side of your town’s border. The tension between the towns hits its apex as Franklin is hit by a Cambodian. Hate crimes, bigoted public pronouncements, and vandalism ensue. As the controversy swirls around Henry, his sights are set on only one thing – climbing Maine’s Mount Katahdin – something his brother Franklin said would make him a man.
This is such a complex story, you’ll want to read it again.