What We Hide

cover artWhat We Hide is a tapestry of teen angst. Many perspectives make up the quilt of the story, all patched together with the common setting of the English boarding school. Most of the characters have secrets, family they are ashamed of, insecurities about friendships, identity crisis, and a lot of pent up sexual frustration.

Since my focus at the moment is Canadian literature for teens, (and this technically qualifies because Marthe Jocelyn is Canadian) I find it difficult to read about English teens and American teens spending time in England. Especially the way Canada is referred to in the first chapter, this doesn’t feel Canadian. The British slang is amusing, and made less confusing by Jenny’s American perspective.

The story is set in the time of the Vietnam war but the way the teens talk and interact feels contemporary. Perhaps I was overly sheltered or naive but I didn’t have nearly as much sex going on in my high school decades after this story takes place and I find it surprising how much is going on in the novel. Many of the characters had or become teen parents, something that I often hear older people complaining about as a “new” phenomenon because of shows like Teen Mom.

There’s good diversity of characters, with representations of more than one ethnicity, sexual orientation and social class. However, all of them feel defined by those characteristics.

I think this story might work better in a different medium, perhaps television? I felt jolted as it jumped from person to person. Format to format. Although I enjoyed the letters embedded in the text the scripts didn’t flow as well.

Unspeakable

cover artCaroline Pignat brings to life a historical tragedy and fictional love in Unspeakable. Similar to the story in the film Titanic, but undeniably original, this novel captures the fear, pain, and survivor’s guilt from the shipwreck of The Empress of Ireland.

“No, the waters didn’t take me that night, but I was drowning, still, in survivor’s guilt” (pg 176)

The friendships and romances are memorable. Learning about Jim’s perspective gradually as Ellie reads his journal is heartbreaking as we see the lost opportunities that so many people suffered.

The class divide on the ships makes you think about society and priorities. In shipwrecks, and in life, it is more dangerous to be in the lower class. Having a protagonist who grew up wealthy but is disowned and needs to work as a stewardess (in a time that was like serfdom) allows readers a view of the larger picture. She sees the contrast all the more starkly, making the transition.

“We write our lives by the choices we make. Like it or not, that becomes our story”

Ellie is a strong character who keeps her integrity through hardships. She experiences more hardships than many could bare but keeps her wits about her, stays true to herself, and fights for what is important to her. She is ostracized for her teen pregnancy, hounded by reporters for being one of the few survivors of disaster, and judged for following her heart. She makes mistakes, but the way she deals with them make her a good role model for readers.

A fantastic read for fans of adventure, survival stories and romance.

The Voice Inside My Head

cover artS.J. Laidlaw’s The Voice Inside My Head is a mystery that’s packed full of  emotions. The novel has adventure, comedy, and a deep sadness.

Luke’s quest to find his missing sister results in him getting to know her better than ever. He sees what she would have been like if she wasn’t burdened with all the responsibilities of caring for him and his parents. His love for her, and unwillingness to give up on finding what happened to her drives the reader to NEED to know too. You can’t put the book down without knowing.

Pat is the absent character, who we get to know without truly meeting. Everyone and everything in the novel is framed by their relation to her. She is adored by some, and despised by others, but everyone feels passionately about her disappearance

For a book  primarily about the loss of a loved one, with a heavy focus on alcoholism, The Voice Inside My Head is a light, enjoyable read. The characters speak in diction that allows you to hear them as individuals. There are quirky, funny people making their way through this serious story.

Luke has internal dialogue with Pat that could cause some debate for readers. Is it his subconscious feeling guilty about the way things were between them? Is it her spirit speaking to him? There’s no definite answer but we learn a lot about their relationship either way.

Family dynamics are contrasted on numerous occasions. Luke’s dysfunctional family makes Jamie’s look wonderful, but then Luke is grateful that he has more than Zach.

I look forward to discussing the characters and the issues they face in my book club this summer. This book has been selected as an honour book for the CLA Young Adult Book Award.

Playing With Matches

cover artSuri Rosen’s debut novel demonstrates a talent for narration. The quick witted observations of the narrator reminded me of Gilmore Girls (a show I adore). The writing flows, in an easy conversational manner that will work for reluctant readers.

The novel explores the difficulties of finding love. It shows readers the extra challenge that finding someone within a small faith community can be, especially with the added pressure from family to settle down when you’re young. The dishonesty,divas, and other dilemmas are cause for both distress and amusement. The protagonist is impulsive and irresponsible but has many endearing qualities.

I’m skeptical about the wisdom to rush back into to dating after a broken engagement, the hasty proposals, and many other tidbits of advice that she offers with some success to her “clients”. Perhaps the reason for so many broken engagements in the story is people didn’t get to know each other first?

It was an amusing read, with a writing style I enjoyed. I think it will be most popular with Jewish teen girls, but you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy it. Red Sox fans will probably find more in common with the characters as well.

Where I Belong

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Tara White’s novel Where I Belong is a paranormal twist on historical fiction. Dreams guide an adopted teen to her birth family. She connects with her Mohawk roots around the time of the Oka uprising. This is a quick read that deals with the struggle of identity as many teen books do. It has both excitement and sweet family moments. The psychic dreams are full of First Nations imagery and symbols.

Finding Melissa

The novel Finding Melissa by Cora Taylor is about a family torn apart when a small child is kidnapped. There are three perspectives in the story. It focuses mainly on the sisters living completely separate lives but there are the occasional chapters about the kidnapper who changed their lives.

The plot is predictable. I anticipated the moves of the antagonist and the young women. There are connections between two police cases that seem stretched and unrealistic.

What made the book worthwhile was the relationships. Leesa’s connection with the kids she babysits and Aunt Rosie are the best parts of the novel. The plights of the sister who remained have been explored in many other stories but it still evoked sympathy. She has survival’s guilt and neglectful parents, as is often the case when a family is devastated by the loss of a child.

Karma

I received Karma by Cathy Ostlere as a submission for the YABA and it was selected as an honour book.

This is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read since my undergrad. It’s in verse, with the narration and dialogue formatted in a unique and stylistic manner. If not executed correctly such a bold format would have taken away from the story, but Ostlere used it to enrich the text. In stark contrast to the last novel I read, Blood Red Road, the dialogue flowed naturally and it was always apparent who was speaking even without quotation marks.

This novel illustrates the difficulties of immigration from the perspective of a first generation Canadian. Maya is Indian to Canadians, and Canadian to Indians. She is always the outsider, and stands out in every culture she belongs to. Born to a Hindu mother and a Sikh father, Maya follows elements of both religions and cultures. Her mixed heritage puts her in grave danger when during her trip to India the Prime Minister is murdered, and the two cultures go to war on one another.

The book is marketed as a love story, and it does contain a compelling one,  but that is not what got my attention. The very nature of humanity is explored as Maya deals with survivor’s guilt. It not only places blame on the rioters who burn men alive and rape young girls, but on those who stand by and do nothing to stop it. Maya is justifiably frozen by fear as the horrors take place, but she later thinks about how many lives could have been saved if the bystanders spoke up. The denial of everything that happened by the government and so many people in the city is chilling, and leaves a lasting impression.

The snowball effect of hate, as the men fight an eye for an eye reminds me of the beautiful take on a nursery rhyme that plays at the beginning of the film Free Zone. Click this link and read the subtitles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuBo5z0fr8A

This would be a fabulous choice for a book club, because it deals with so many great discussion topics:

-identity

-prejudice/acceptance

-depression/mental illness/suicide

-poverty/ class systems

-apathy/denial

-family

I think this novel has much wider appeal than it’s hot pink cover shows. I think the cover is beautiful with the swirly fonts, but there is plenty in this novel that would appeal to boys, and I don’t believe many would pick this up.