Tag Archives: Trapped in Adolescence

Instructions for the End of the World by Jamie Kain

Instructions for the End of the WorldNicole’s father, a retired military officer and end-of-the-world prepper , moves his family to a home he inherited in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Nicole’s mother leaves after she sees the dilapidated condition of the home. When her father leaves to find her mother, Nicole is left to watch her obstinate 14-year-old sister Izzy, who doesn’t want to be there any more than her mother did, although there’s not much she can do about it.  The house has no phone, their cell phones don’t receive a signal, and both cars were taken by both parents.  Nicole, who takes after her father more than anyone else, is forced to contemplate her father’s hyper focus on prepping, her parents’ doomed marriage, her relationship with Izzy, and her feelings for the Wolf – short for Wolfgang – a boy who lives in an adjacent community. Complicating matters, forest fires threaten the area.

All of the signs of young adult literature reside in Jamie Kain’s novel. Parents leave children to figure things out on their own, protagonists experience opposing feelings about their place in the world, and they also confront feelings they must navigate for members of the opposite sex.  It’s awkward, but so it adolescence.

Kain’s novel is told from multiple perspectives – Nicole, Izzy, Wolf, and occasionally Laurel, a girl who lives in Wolf’s same community.  All four perspectives provide very different observations and go along way to characterize the narrators.  Nicole is her father’s daughter; he taught her how to shoot, hunt, and survive.  Izzy is more like her mother. Wolf is quite the independent sort, having been left to live in the community (more like a commune) while his mother leads a fairly transient life, travelling, abusing substances, and gallivanting from place to place. Wolf wants no part of this life, so he often reads older than his years. Laurel is more like a sister to Wolf, although she gives off a jealous vibe when Nicole is present; she wants Annika’s (Wolf’s mother) attention more than Wolf. The tension between the sisters, as well as Wolf and Laurel, presents readers with some interesting alternative perspectives of similar experiences, which is something young adult literature should do.  Nicole and Izzy see things very differently, even though they both share the same parents, upbringing, and DNA.

Instructions for the End of the World was enjoyable, but I’m not sure I would recommend it over many of the other books I’ve read lately. Nicole’s internal conflict is compelling, and the mess she and Izzy must overcome is interesting, but the story lacks something I can’t quite put my finger on.  Maybe it’s Wolf’s above-it-all, overly-mature approach to things. While he’s only 17, he comes off more as a middle-aged philosopher. The voice and characterization are not quite right for a teen, although his life experiences  have forced him to grow up awfully fast.

If I were asked to rate this book, I would give it a solid three stars out of five. The ending gave me closure, but it didn’t satisfy all of the questions I had leading up to it.

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Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homosapian AgendaSimon, a high school junior, is gay, but he is leery to come out because of the backlash he’s certain will follow. However, when a classmate comes upon Simon’s open e-mail in the school library, his secret is out, and the classmate decides to use blackmail for his own gain. Simon must decide whether he wants to control his own communication or allow someone else to take control for him.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I opened Simon Vs. The Homosapiens Agenda. I believe that young adult literature – or any literature for that matter – is a useful tool to better understand ourselves and the world around us.  And I have no doubt that some of my middle school students are struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity. This book confronts Simon’s sexuality in what I can only imagine is a very realistic manner. He struggles with how he’ll come out to his family, how he’ll tell his friends, and how the backlash from such a decision, particularly in suburban Atlanta, will affect everyone going forward.

While he mulls the repercussions of any pronouncement, Simon has his first contact with another gay, albeit anonymous, student over e-mail.  Simon’s e-mails allow him to work through his many mixed feelings while his anonymous e-mail correspondent finds himself in the same boat.

The first 60% of this book was much too slow. Yes, character development was critical, but sometimes too much is too much. However, the final 40% was worth the wait.

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Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy and OliverTwo name novels are in vogue.  Eleanor and Park, Zac and Mia, Althea and Oliver. After a quick Internet search, I’m not the only YA book blogger who has noticed the trend.  I loved Eleanor and Park, but I couldn’t get past the first part of Zac and Mia. When Emmy and Oliver caught my attention, I was a bit skeptical.  Was Robin Benway attempting to ride the wave of two-name young adult novels for the sake of higher sales. Who knows. What I do know is that Benway has written a book that stands on its own merits.

Emmy and Oliver are elementary school friends and next door neighbors who are separated for nearly a decade after Oliver’s father, worried over his ex-wife’s threat to gain full custody, kidnaps Oliver during one of his custody weekends. Oliver’s kidnapping affects everyone involved. Emmy’s parents become much more protective and overbearing.  When Oliver returns during their senior year of high school, no one is quite sure how to respond. The adults request that Oliver be given space to reacquaint himself with his family. Emmy wonders whether her parents will lighten up on curfew and the other overprotective measures put in place after Oliver’s disappearance. Most importantly, Emmy struggles to recapture the second-grade friendship she shared with Oliver.

Although Emmy and Oliver is a story about timeless friendship, it also provoked many thoughts about overprotective, helicopter parents who prevent their children from experiencing and responding to the ups and downs of life. Emmy’s parents are off-the-charts. She’s a senior in high school, yet she has a sundown curfew during the summer. Their overprotective nature pushes Emmy to live under a veil of secrecy. She lies about her surfing; she applies to college while they feel she should attend community college and live at home; and she attends parties while telling her parents she’s sleeping over at her friend Caro’s (Caroline) house.  Other subplots add substance to the story.  Emmy and Caro’s friend, Drew, a soccer star, is gay and must deal with the dilemma of same-sex dating in high school.

However, the most compelling aspect of the story is Oliver’s reaction to returning home after ten years away.  At one point in the book, he says, ” Coming home is like being kidnapped all over again.” When his father kidnapped him, Oliver had to learn the ways of a new life, including a new name.  When he returned home as a teenager, everyone assumed to would re-acclimate after a short time. It wasn’t that simple. His mother had remarried and given birth to twin daughters, his friends were different people, and he was an unwilling celebrity. He needed his friends, but since they were told to give him space, he felt isolated.

I found Emmy and Oliver fulfilling and compelling, and I look forward to recommending it to my eighth graders who enjoy teen romance with a twist.

 

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Split by Swati Avasthi

SplitTo what extent can we run from our past without fearing our future?  Jace, a high school junior, winds up on his older brother’s doorstep after being kicked out of the house by his abusive father. While his father’s abuse was the impetus behind his escape, Jace is worried that he will eventually turn into his father because he looks like him and begins to act like him. Prior to running away, Jace began to abuse his girlfriend, a second strike that makes him weary of his future.

Split makes for a fulfilling reading experience because the story is loaded with contrasts. Jace thought his older brother would welcome him with open arms, yet his older brother has run from the same fate – he does not want to turn into his father. At the same time, both share concern for their mother’s welfare.  No matter how many times her husband beats her, Jace’s mother stays, something he does not understand.  However, when Jace and his brother make plans to save their mother, they are surprised by what they encounter.

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Epitaph Road by David Patneaude

Epitaph RoadWhat would the world be like if women were in control?  Would war, hunger, and poverty disappear?  This is the question author David Patneaude explores in his dystopic young adult novel Epitaph Road. Kellen is a minority.  He’s male in a world where 95% of the population is female.  A plague, Elisha’s Bear, killed almost every male more than 30 years ago.  Had he not been on a camping trip in the wild with his mother and sister, he would have died as well.  Now, he’s nothing more than an oddity, someone girls look at with contempt.  He’s a second class citizen.  If he passes mandated tests that only males are required to take, he might be allowed to assume a non-threatening occupation, one in which the job keeper would not hold power over others. That is what males have been resigned to.  However, when another outbreak of Elisha’s Bear threatens a community of men and some women who are termed “throwbacks” for their old-fashioned way of living, Kellen becomes alarmed.  His father is one of those “throwbacks.” But will he have enough time to warn his father and avoid contracting the plague?

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The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

The Eleventh PlagueThe Chinese have unleashed a plague that has wiped out major portions of the population.  As the story begins, Stephen and his father have just buried his grandfather after having done the same for his mother, who died in childbirth.  Not long after, Stephen’s father is hurt as both attempt to escape “slavers” bent on selling anyone they can catch.  With his father unconscious, Stephen doesn’t know what to do until a group of men and boys enter the picture and rescue them both. This seems too good to be true, though, so Stephen remains skeptical of his new companions’ intentions. He has no choice, though, but to go along with this new group because his father’s health and welfare hang in the balance. All Stephen really wants is to help his father heal and find a place where they can both be safe in the long term.  Whether this new oasis is the place or not, he doesn’t know.

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Memory Boy by Will Weaver

Memory BoyMiles, a high school senior, attempts to lead his family from ash-covered Minneapolis to what he hopes will be the safety of his family’s cabin in northern Minnesota.   A massive volcanic eruption has covered the United States in ash, pitting people against each other for survival.  Riding his creation, the Ali Princess, a family-carrying, sail-propelled, super bike, between Minneapolis and the family cabin proves dangerous as they experience price gouging, hostile squatters, and thieves.   Miles learns to trust his instincts, and treasure his family; he realizes that a man is only as good as his ability to help himself and his family.

This is a great starting point for those readers who are reluctant to read science fiction.  The story is grounded in a realistic, current setting, and Miles and his family exhibit many of the same traits as modern families.  Weaver’s follow-up, The Survivors, extends the story and introduces new conflicts that fit the overall story.

 

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