Paige by Paige

8928004Laura Lee Gulledge has created one of the most expressive and artistic graphic novels I’ve read.

In Page by Paige she illustrates emotions beautifully and hauntingly. Complex feelings and thoughts of impostor syndrome, being an introvert, anxiety, homesickness and more are brought to life in art that defies the frames of the comic and is worthy of being framed on a wall.

It’s a sweet book appropriate for young teens but that can appeal to older teens. If you are looking for a realistic graphic novel about growing up and figuring out who you are this is a good one.

 

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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.

The Death Of Us

Alice Kuipers does something very well in The Death of Us that few authors succeed at in my opinion. She gives voice to several characters in first person narratives, and they each have a distinct and believable voice.

I adore Callie’s nerdy musings as she jogs “I feel like Odysseus travelling to exotic lands, and I wonder where the Lotus-Eaters are, or where the Cyclops lives” (29). The way phrases pop into her head, the way she struggles to write down her myriad of ideas, and almost everything about her resonates with me. The way she describes her surroundings and the people is so creative and observant that I want her to be real so we sit and people watch, because I think hearing her describe what’s around us would open my eyes.

cover artIvy isn’t someone I would be friends with but she still feels more real than someone like her usually does in the story. She may be the gorgeous, impulsive, center of attention but she also has a darkness in her, and an insecurity that Kuipers makes convincing. She does what she can to avoid becoming her mother, embracing life to the fullest. The wild streak this brings out in her leads her down her mother’s paths though.

I enjoy that each girl tries to emulate the other. When they get stuck they imagine what their friend would do and act it out. It’s interesting that it works both ways. There’s a strange bond between them, they are so different but fit well together. There’s also a sexual tension that is explored in a subtle way that I think demonstrates the difference between being sexy and being crude in literature for young people.

Kurt is in a unique situation of experiencing two worlds. He knows what it’s like to come from that dark place, like Ivy… but he also knows even more luxury and sophistication than Callie. He struggles with balancing these sides of himself. I think each of the girls represents a side of him, and his attraction to them both represents that inner struggle.

The novel is a tragedy, but despite my sadness at the events that take place in it-I am left feeling inspired. It’s the kind of novel that makes you want to hug someone you were angry at, to really live, to write poetry… I think Kuipers has done a fantastic job at creating realism. You can’t help but care about her characters. You can’t help but hang on her words.

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.

Whisper

cover artChris Struyk-Bonn’s novel Whisper speaks loudly about many issues. It explores treatment of disabled children in a dystopian world where birth defects are growing in numbers but not in acceptance. The children are defined by their deformities and exploited as slave labour. Prejudice, abandonment, neglect, pollution, child prostitution, and unethical farming practices are all subjects explored.

Whisper’s hardships and adventures comprise a compelling plot, original characters, and thoughtful reflection. The description of her feelings towards her music, and it’s impact on others is symbolic of how art can help people communicate what they have difficulty putting into words. The value of art is also seen in Jeremia’s sculptures that are treasured by everyone.

Identity is a struggle throughout the novel. Whisper does not feel she belongs in any of the many places she lives. She is too ugly, too talented, too strange, too successful, too wild, too civilized…. The difficulty of finding the balance is something I think will go over well with teens who often are at a stage of figuring out who they are/want to be.

The pacing was a bit uneven. It lagged in a few places that could have been edited. However, the novel as a whole is successful in that it was entertaining but makes you think about the real world as well as the imaginary one it creates.

I think the most powerful and important part of this novel is Whisper’s refusal to hide who she is. She accepts herself and embraces her difference without allowing them to define her.

Switch

Switch by Douglas Davey is a bildungsroman. It explores the struggle of a bisexual young man coming to terms with his feelings and with prejudice from bullies. Being bisexual is confusing for him and his friends, with everyone questioning how he really felt about his girlfriend.

The narration is great, and makes it feel like Sheldon is a real person. The footnotes are funny and informative, but I’m not sure teens will enjoy them as much as I do.

This is a book that could be helpful to a teen who is questioning their sexuality. It explores different opinions and misconceptions about bisexuality that they may face. You don’t have to be gay to enjoy the novel, but sexual orientation is the main focus so it will probably appeal the most to those who can relate or have friends they are trying to understand.

There are no explicit sex scenes in this novel, it’s more about the identity struggle than the actual sexuality.

Whatever Life You Wear

cover artCecilia Kennedy shows writing talent in many passages found in her novel Whatever Life You Wear. The way she captures the experience of being a tourist is exquisite. The blur of landmarks as you are rushed from site seeing spot to tourist trap by hurried guides, groups that don’t share your interest, and a time-crunch is played out with beautiful diction.

Her reverence for the power of words comes out at several points that appeal to my literary side, with phrases like “weaving words that take you out of your skin” and “watched the disregarded words fall on the sidewalk like litter” (Kennedy). You can tell at times that she is poet.

However, there are some missteps in the writing. Taking on such a huge cast of characters in her first novel may have been over-ambitious. The perspective hops from character to character. It’s not first person narrative but there are constant shifts regarding who is the focus of the story, who we have insights about. This would be tolerable if each of the characters had a unique voice, but I’m afraid they don’t. While each character has unique traits when described by others, they don’t feel distinct when we are in their heads. There’s a blandness to the way the perspective is set up, where we only get a small taste of the character’s thoughts. Sometimes there needed to be a stronger indication that the narrative was in a new location with different characters.

Despite the perspective issues it is clear the author knows teenagers well. The turmoil of trying to fit in but at the same time trying to establish your individuality is the essence of being a teenager. All of the characters in the story are experiencing this in some way. The way she writes about grief and alcoholism is approachable for young readers.