This installment: teens in Hawaii (f); a Muslim teen (f); creepy Scandinavian fantasy (f); a food-focused memoir (nf); an English psychological thriller (f);and a dare-devil’s memoir (nf);
Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
I often turn to teen books because they’re so honest and also provide quick reads. But I tend to forget how intense and emotional teenagers are, and sometimes get overwhelmed with all the hurt and anger the characters experience. Here Rumi, 17, has lost her younger sister in a car crash and essentially her mother, who’s in retreat and mentally ill. She’s shipped to an aunt in Hawaii but feels totally cut off from her previous life and paralyzed by survivor’s guilt. However neighbors–the grumpy old guy on one side and the charming boy on the other—very gradually break through her fierce armor. Two special aspects of the book: Rumi doesn’t get turned on by boys or girls but learns she’s not a freak; it’s different for everybody. And much of the wisdom is delivered in pidgin.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
Another teen novel with a furious protagonist. Shirin, in high school, wears a headscarf. Her parents don’t demand it but it’s part of her Muslim identity. She gets lots of grief right after 9/11 and walls herself off from fellow students. Until a lab partner, Ocean, gradually becomes her friend—and more. She also joins her older brother’s breakdancing team. Lots of internal struggles about her burgeoning sexuality. Quite a balancing act and insight into the nature of cultural conflicts.
I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Ooh, this one is very creepy. Four caravans are somehow displaced overnight and end up in a featureless green field. Their occupants are completely baffled and react in a variety of less-than-helpful ways, dogged by the emotional baggage that came along with them. A dog, a cat, a very strange child named Molly, many Undead—what a cast of characters. Surrealistic as all get-out and absolutely fascinating.
Crave: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Christine S. O’Brien
Well the subtitle tips us off: what is the hole that needs filling in the author’s life. Parental love, that’s what. Her mother Carol was a sickly child and later took to her bed. The malady? Unclear but Carol turned to every health food fad and regimen around and made her children take part. Her father was a hotshot Hollywood producer with a high, angry voice. Not fun. I’m fascinated by how people express and deal with such a painful growing up and O’Brien is eloquent and touching. The irony—such suffering amid plenty.
Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
There is little redemption in this psychological thriller from England, but I was intrigued by the cast of characters, each sicker and more manipulative than the next. In Avalon, a great pile of a house, live Lydia and her son Andrew. They are very attached to each other. All sorts of dark doings lurk: a little sister drowned in the pond, a young woman with a bad reputation buried on the property, and her beautiful sister trying to figure out where she disappeared to. Lydia’s husband, a judge, fell face down in the gravy during Christmas dinner so he’s out of the picture. Guess I was in the mood for bad behavior, and this book delivered in spades.
The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine
Subtitled a Memoir in Death-Defying Acts and indeed this dare devil joined the carnival and put her body on the line to stretch her experience far beyond the comfort zone. She was catapulted into such a strange pursuit when she watched her once vibrant mother going through a sad decline. Fontaine wanted to explore facing fear, big time, and she learns by doing: contorting, fire eating, and more. This brings her in contact with strange folks and at first it feels like perpetual hazing but eventually they accept her, kind of. Not many side shows left (definitely not politically correct) so this is a rare chance to take a peek backstage with a very articulate guide. Fascinating.
Back in three days.