Your Constant Star

In her novel Your Constant Star Brenda Hasiuk establishes three very distinct voices. Life filled with dysfunctional families, identity crisis, hormones, tempers, and loss is experienced and expressed by three young narrators. Character development is rich with motives and scars carefully crafted to form convincing people. This is a skill that’s essential to writing great teen literature. Hasiuk makes you think of her characters as people- not just plot devices.

Teen pregnancy is such a common theme in YA books that it’s almost cliche but Hasiuk succeeds in her storytelling by making it about more than an unplanned pregnancy. The strained relationships between the former neighbours (“sort of friends” as they put it), the family members and the couple are all complex.

The plot is not rife with action and adventure despite the thrill seeking nature of two of the narrators, but the characters grab you enough to make it a worthwhile book to ponder.

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Capricious

Capricious is the sequel to Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast. Every page is populated by beautiful verse. The poetry of it delights me. The imagery and stream of consciousness flow in a way that convincingly portrays the angst of teen life.

I felt it begun too abruptly, jumping right into her loss of virginity. The rest of the book I loved the gritty bits of desire and drugs but they were always framed successfully by her quirky observations of the world. The first page and chapter only work well if you’ve read the first book – which is unfortunate.

I can forgive this false step because of the mastery in the rest of the writing. From comparing a bikini wax to the chopping down of rain forests to the musings about loss of faith, Prendergast makes words into art with fantastic diction and tempo.

Often flawed characters are the most endearing. Ella’s questionable morals and decisions such as juggling two men don’t make the reader hate her because of the way Prendergast writes her internal struggle. She is finding pieces of what she needs in each of the young men- but neither of them is capable of making her feel whole. I think the struggle to understand relationships and love is well played out. The narrator is not a shining role model for teens, but feels like a real person shaped by her traumas, hopes and fears.

One of my favourite passages was where she describes the bus kneeling in supplication for Marika. The girl who’s disabilities don’t detract from her beauty and queenly personality. At one point she describes school as a “dystopian death match” with students writing essays in the blood of their classmates. The competitive nature of high school is reflected on repeatedly- comparing students to coyotes who are fighting for territory and dominance. This is a novel that tackles the tough topics of peer pressure, addiction, religion, relationships, illness, and depression. It doesn’t choose one above others and feel forced or didactic. Instead it succeeds in demonstrating how all the issues can pile up, drowning the people who are surrounded by varied struggles.

So Much It Hurts

cover art

Domestic violence is a tough but important subject to breach. So Much It Hurts by Monique Polak does an excellent job of revealing how an older man can be charming and make a young girl feel special in order to get away with mistreating her. I was worried about how this novel would end, it was difficult to read because of the dark subject matter but I couldn’t stop. Iris has the combination of vulnerability and strength that makes a novel such as this compelling. Her pain and poor judgement will hopefully make young girls think about how they should be treated, and create empathy for those not strong enough to know how to avoid such situations.

Signs of Martha

*I received Signs of Martha by Sarah Raymond as a submission for YABA

One problem with this novel is that the back cover tells you just about the whole story, so there are zero surprises. There are no twists, which is a shame because an artistic character like Martha should have some twists in her life. I think Raymond did a good job at portraying the frustrations of rural teens. Martha feels trapped by her boyfriend’s plans, and I think is justifiably wigged when he makes a big purchase without consulting her. Martha doesn’t have much opportunity to explore her options or develop a voice of her own, so I understand why she lashed out with her art. I felt like the plot made for an interesting start to a story, but not a story in itself. I wanted more to come of everything. I wanted more emotion from John. I wanted Martha to speak up. I wanted more…