Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recently Read:
A Bunch of Boy Books

I know, it's not so cool to tag a novel a "girl book" or a "boy book," but go ahead and see who checks out the Princess Diaries or Twilight series, and who checks out Alex Rider books, and draw your own conclusions :-)

So I just read three new YA novels in a row with smart teenage guy characters working with universal teenage guy stuff -- friends, girls and parents. Each one has its own spin, and I recommend them all.

How Ya Like Me Now? is the latest novel from Brendan Halpin, author of Donorboy (a JH Reading Bowl book). It's about two cousins, Eddie and Alex, who end up sharing a room, school and a family, and become friends. Since his dad died, Eddie's been raising himself in the middle class suburbs while his mom kills her sorrow with OxyContin. DFCS enters the picture, Eddie moves in with Aunt Lily, Uncle Brian and smart, smooth, slacker Alex, and starts school at the decidedly different Francis Abernathy Center for Urban Education. On the wierd side, FA-CUE is an experimental school based on a business model (they have a CEO instead of a principle). On the difficult side, Eddie is going from an all-white school to being one of a tiny minority, and Alex isn't helping the transition much. On the plus side, at CUE, kids want to look at your A+ test, not beat you up for it. It's cool to be smart. Girls like it, too.

Sure, Eddie learns to fit in and be a regular kid. Alex starts to see that "reaching your full potential" (aka, "making As") feels pretty good. And you'll like how Eddie gets comfortable in his cool white dork skin, with lines like "Yes, I will now discontinue my fronting . . . you may or may not be aware, I am the mack. Kelvin pronounced it so."

Jennifer Bradbury's Shift is also about high school buddies changing their lives. Chris and Win, also known as chrisandwin, have been like twins since 4th grade, except blue-collar Chris has loving, almost over-attentive parents, while wealthy Win's parents are either controlling, disappointed or have forgotten him altogether.

They put together a plan to ride cross-country, from West Virginia to Seattle, after graduation. As usual, Chris does most of the work while Win does most of the talking, flirting and whining. Over a couple of thousand miles, Chris gets totally irritated with his buddy, so when Win rides off and leaves him on the side of the road in Montana, Chris finishes the trip on his own, goes home to start Georgia Tech, and figures "good riddance." At least until the FBI shows up.

When did the shift in their friendship happen? Did their lives shift for the better, or out of control? What happened to Win?

The final novel of the bunch is Unwind, by sci-fi/fantasy writer Neal Shusterman (Everlost, Full Tilt, Dread Locks). In this America, the pro-life/pro-choice factions have finally settled their differences and come to a workable compromise for both sides. Abortion is forbidden, and every conceived child is protected by law. However, if by the age of 13 a child isn't working out for the parents, they can choose to retroactively abort, or Unwind, the kid. Unwound kids don't die, really, it's just that 100% of their parts are "harvested" and sent off as transplants. They live on, sort of, in lots of other people.

Connor is sixteen when his parents sign the Unwind order. Anger and impulsivity work in his favor when he runs away, causes a huge traffic accident, becomes a legend and finds fellow Unwinds Risa and Lev, each being sent to "Harvest Camp" for different reasons. What happens to Connor and his fellow Unwinds as they desperately try to save their lives, will make you think about parents and teens, growing up and making mistakes, and where progress in medicine might take us. If you liked House of the Scorpion, Unwind is a great book for you.

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