Tag Archives: young adult fiction

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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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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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of MiraclesWith so many dystopian novels filling our middle school shelves beyond capacity, I had reached my limit. Sure, I enjoy the what-if nature of most of these novels, but many began to feel like the same story simply being retold. Then I read the summary of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles and my curiosity was piqued.  Yet, I still wondered whether the novel would define itself, rather than follow the same worn-out path. Walker’s novel, thankfully, goes where the others have not.

The story begins like any ordinary day in an eleven-year-old girl’s life.  Julia, Walker’s protagonist and narrator, has just awoken from a sleepover with her best friend, Hanna.  Her father is seated at the dining room table, meticulously reading the newspaper. Her mother is headed home with bagels. The typical Saturday events are in motion. However, when Julia’s mother breathlessly enters the house and demands that the television news be turned on, readers know something is wrong.  This is where Walker’s premise – what happens when the Earth’s rotation slows down? – begins to reveal itself.  And, this is where her novel differentiates itself. While most young adult dystopian novels focus on the aftermath of a cataclysmic event, The Age of Miracles guides you along from the beginning.

This novel is also different because while the Earth’s slowing should be the primary focus, it shares time with Julia’s observations of her parents disintegrating relationship and her own social troubles. The “slowing” began when Julia was 11. However, she tells the story as a twenty-something, looking back, and at times making sense, of the events – social, societal, and scientific – that unfolded during those first few months, when the normal 24-hour day extended itself to 72 hours.  With all of the tumult surrounding her, Julia’s primary concern, fitting in, plays out against the uncertainty of Earth’s future.

The Age of Miracles is a novel I could have happily continued reading for hundreds more pages. That’s the sign of a truly wonderful story.

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