BORN CONFUSED by Tanuja Desai Hidier

I think this is a YA, although it does not seem to be classified as such.  It is a coming of age story of a teenage girl in New Jersey.  Nice change from all those boy coming of age stories.

It is a light hearted first person narrative of a 16-going-on 17-year old Asian girl who was born in India, but at an early age her parents moved to the US to finished their educations and work as doctors.  Her BFF is a blonde American sweetie, and they have been friends since early grammar school.

During this year, the BFF who has been dating a loutish loser, tries to fix up Dimple, our Asian gal, with a loser friend of her loser boyfriend, which does not go well at all.   Dimple’s parents invite over to the house an old friend from India who has an eligible college age son, with an eye to making a match.  Seemed kind of young to me, but this is not my culture, so what do I know?

The BFF makes a huge play for the Indian young man after her loutish boyfriend dumps her, gets what she thinks is a modeling job with a prestigious magazine, which turns out to be just gofer work, and reveals herself (at least to me) as being a narcissistic self-involved person not worth bothering with, but about whom Dimple has pages of ruminations and musings about selfishness, friendship, yada yada yada teenage yada yada after they have a falling out.

Our Dimple likes taking pictures and makes a small name for herself as a photographer at a multicultural event when her astonishing photos of a beautiful transvestite are lavishly displayed.  The nice young Indian potential mate shows himself to be as patriarchal as every other India man, but I don’t think we readers are supposed to see him that way.  I saw him that way.  You know, in that Eat, Pray, Get a Man, way.

It is all about being different from the majority, both culturally and in appearance.  Identity is always a crapshoot, and the title refers to this dilemma of fitting in.

It was sweetly written, and what teenage girl of any stripe does not feel she is different from everyone else?  Right?

 

SUDDENLY ASTRONAUT by Andrew J. Morgan

A fun YA sci fi about a young teen who was born and raised on a space station orbiting Jupiter.  The station was created by a corporation to study the effects of gases, etc.  Whatever.  The station features an AI that has many human attributes, and is called Tom.  The young kid, Ben,  is a loner and bullied, a typical trope of YA fiction.  His only friend is Tom, and because his parents are the heads of the station and rarely home, he is on his own a lot.  On his thirteenth birthday, he is eligible to take a tour outside the station on a small vessel called a tug.  It is a solo ride, piloted by Tom, with the controls closed to his own access.

They have a great day for it …. a big resupply barge from earth was scheduled to dock, and would be great to watch from outside the station.  But something goes wrong, and, well, everything except the tug blows up.  The end.

No, that’s not the end.

The rest of the story is kind of like Andy Weir’s The Martian-lite, as Ben and Tom decide that waiting 5-1/2 months for rescue from earth, which may not even come, is probably the least good option, so they set off in the tug for earth, which Ben has never seen.  The voyage is fraught with just what you might expect of such a voyage, and just as we are down to the wire, ….

Well, OK, of course the young man does not die.  What kind of YA book would that be? Bad enough his parents and all his friends were killed in the explosion.

It was only medium on the science, so we don’t have to worry too much about science plot holes or improbabilities.  The long voyage allows Tom the computer to grow more human-like, and the two forge a tight bond.  Frankly, this was the harder stuff to swallow, but you know?  Science fiction?  Fiction.  We can’t get too snarky because so much of what was once thought improbable is now part of our everyday lives.

 

NO ALLIGATORS IN SIGHT by Kirsten B. Feldman

no-alligators_feldman-low-res-coverA lovely coming-of-age story of a couple of kids raised — and I use that term loosely — by their divorced father after their mother just up and left them 5 years ago.

Nice example of how maybe competency exams for being allowed to have children might just be a good idea.  The mother is a narcissistic, self-involved woman, and the dad is ….. OK, a drunk.  Alcoholic?  Maybe, but definitely a drunk.  The mother insists on saddling her kids with unusual names so they would stand out and be special.  So she names her daughter Leticia, which being a common name here in Mexico, I don’t consider so bad.  But the brother, born 4 years later, gets stuck with Englebert.   But mom loses interest, and swans off from their Cape Cod home to Key West, Florida, with another man, a brash annoying fellow named Orlando, leaving the drinking dad to muddle through alone with the child care of his then 3 year old son and 8 year old daughter.

So dad does what he has always done, goes to work as a bartender during the day, hangs around drinking with his friends through the evening, leaving little Lettie to take care of the brother pretty much on her own.

For Lettie, the absent mother has taken on aspects of a mystery women, and Lettie is more and more into the idea of seeing her again, although they have never heard from her in that five year interval.   The dad being mostly drunk and stingy, they never have any money, and Lettie takes to minor shoplifting, more for sport than need, and is finally caught changing price tags on a CD,  dad gets totally pissed, and in a flash, sends the kids off to stay with mom in Florida for 6 weeks.

The step father turns out to be awful, the mother not much less so, the visit is terrible, they live only a few steps above poverty and in squalor, Lettie develops, now at 13, the Teenage Mouth, and has a lot to say to her mother about why she left, etc, etc.  You can just imagine.  The mother, meanwhile,  is all “But you are not giving me a chance to make amends.  It is your fault we are not together.”  Told you she was a narcissist.    Well, a week before the kids are due to go back to Cape Cod,  Lettie mouths off big time to her mother, the step father loses his shit, grabs her and her plane ticket, and drops her off at the airport, and drives away.   She is forced to wait there alone through the night until a flight in the morning.  The mother never comes after her.

She returns back home to find that her father is involved with a nice woman from his place of work, has stopped drinking and started attending AA meetings, has cleaned up the house, and has begun actually talking to her.   They fear the mother may not allow the brother to return, but all is well.

Several months later, Lettie is outside her house and a fancy car drives up, and it is her mother, wanting to try again to have a relationship with her kids.  Oh!  Gee, really?  Yeah.  The step father was snagged for smuggling, and is in prison, the mother has divorced him and taken up with another guy, and life goes on.  Lettie says basically, thanks for the relationship offering, but no thanks. Bug off.  We don’t need you.

Epilogue of everybody all grown up, and married, and the mother living in South America being an artist, cue the sweet music, fade to black.

Nice book.  I really enjoyed it.  Nothing new.   Sometimes families suck.  Sometimes you don’t get to have the mother you want, sometimes you just gotta grow up on your own.   But at least it had a realistically happy ending.  The mother never improved, she just kept on being the self-centered person that she was, but dad was able to get his act together.  That is realistic.  Expecting someone to make a 180 degree personality turnaround is not realistic.  I am satisfied with the ending.

 

 

THE GRAVE ARTIST by Paula Lynn Johnson

Grave ArtistA fun more-or-less paranormal YA about a teenage girl who does spirit drawing.  And about a 16 year old girl who lived in the 1700s and was murdered.

Sixteen-year-old Clare finds herself drawing skulls with wings– specifically deathheads, the kind of carvings you see on tombstones.   She calls them Sammies, for some reason.

Claire is the fallout of a father who has recently abandoned the family in favor of a Bambi model, his former paralegal in his law firm, and Clare and her older sister and her mom are all struggling valiantly to carry on, having moved to a new, somewhat lower economic strata town, meaning a first-time ever job for mom and a new school for Clare.

She is a talented artist, and in art class meets Neil, and they become friends and co-investigators of the strange phenomenon of her ‘spirit’ drawings.

They visit one of the town’s old cemeteries trying to find a deathshead, and find the exact one she has been drawing on the tombstone of a teenage girl named….gasp!…. Samantha.   They talk with a volunteer at the Historical Society and learn quite a bit about Samantha and her family,  which turns out to be one of the founding families of the town.  It also seems that she was murdered, found with her head bashed in and under water at the local river.  With Neil’s urging, they go again and try some automatic or spirit writing, and this produces the request to find her Dearest and bring him to her.

Clare talks to the only living ancestor of the dead teenager, who gives her an old family locket that no one has been able to open.  Claire uses an art knife to spring it open, to see it contains a painting of an eye.  An art teacher explains they are Lover’s Eyes, which the teacher explains are rare.   She said almost all are English, since the tradition began with Prince George IV, who fell in love with a prohibited woman –a commoner and a Catholic, so he had a painting of his eye put in a locket so she would have a momentum to carry around with her and no one would know who it was.

Clare is haunted by nightmares and more symbolism and is determined to solve the mystery of who murdered Samantha before she goes completely crazy.

A centuries old mystery having to do with family issues of the time,  overlaid with the family issues of today, and the nexus for all of this are the two teens.

A YA, because it is featuring teens, but a fun story and very readable.  I think the thing that would take this out of the YA category would be a little less teenage angst and a lot more detail and expanded story.   An enjoyable easy read.  I like enjoyable and easy.

deathshead

 

 

 

UP, BACK, AND AWAY by K. Velk

51PXCcaQBUL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_YA fantasy, not something I usually read, but dang if it wasn’t a pretty nifty tale.  It is a story about time travel, another genre niche which I don’t usually care for, but it turned out to be a fine story which kept me turning pages

A fifteen-year-old boy meets an elderly professor in a bike shop, which offers antique bicycles.  The professor has a heart attack, and calls young Miles to his hospital bedside to confess that he is a time traveler, and needs Miles to go to 1928 England for him and bring back a girl who is there ‘out of time’, who doesn’t belong in that time period.

On telling the plot, it does seem like a flimsy excuse, and how is Miles to actually accomplish this?  Well, turns out there is a portal in the Vermont woods, which Miles’ family will be conveniently visiting shortly.  Miles insists on hauling his antique bike with him so he can secretly take it through the portal.

He goes through the portal, bangs his head on a low branch, and wakes up in 1928 rural England, where a young lad takes him to the local doctor for treatment.  He gets a job at the great house, (you know, like Downton Abby, and comes face to face with the British class system, circa pre-WWII.

It is a clever mashup of history and modern times, and if the story line of finding a girl “out of time” is a little odd,  perhaps even hooky, it is still a fun read.  There are some convenient exceptions to what one can bring through the portal from the future, and we meet some interesting characters, there is the feel good denouement in the 1928 story, and then a feel good ending in modern times.

This is a fun read, and by no means is it a fictionalized treatise on the physics of time travel.  It is just a story, and a lovely one at that.

 

PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld

PrepLee Fiora is a fish out of water.   No, wait.  She is a teenager out of her element.  Lee is fourteen years old and attending an exclusive prep school in Massachusettes, which caters to the children of the wealthy.  But Lee’s family is anything but wealthy.  They are solidly middle class in Indiana, where her dad runs a retail store of some kind.  She has a couple of brothers, and yearns for some new, bigger horizons.   She gets the idea to apply to a posh boarding school in the East, and even manages to get a full ride scholarship.   So far, so good.

Her parents aren’t thrilled, not seeing what is wrong with their life and the local schools, but loving her as they do, they agree to the plan, and do their best to support her by sacrificing in order to provide plane tickets and spending money.

But we all know where this is going, don’t we?  She arrives to find only a few other scholarship students,  only a few students of color,  and feels really out of place, an outsider who can never be part of the inner circle of the carefree and careless progeny of the monied class.  She doesn’t fit in.

But like so much teenage drama, a great deal of her issues are of her own making.  Having pre-decided that no one will want to bother with her, she isolates herself, doesn’t attend any of the functions, is silent in class, lowers her eyes when anyone tries to be friendly and talk to her, and sets herself on a course for a miserable, sad, lonely high school life.   But we, the readers, can see others reaching out to her, only to be rebuffed, so after a while, they give up.

She develops a mad crush on some semi-unattainable boy, finally makes a friend with whom she rooms for the last three years, but really, all we want to do is slap her around and scream “GET A FREAKING CLUE!”   I find teenage drama tedious and tiresome.  That’s why I don’t read much YA.   If it isn’t teenage angst, it’s the lone teen warrior saving humanity.  Bleh.

Anyway, back to this book.  Nothing much happens.  For four years.   The book is not really heavy on plot, but it is heavy on description and detail, which strangely enough, keeps you reading reading reading rather compulsively until you get to the end when we are offered one of those tie-it-all-together epilogs.

I liked it.  I didn’t LOVE it, because there is not enough substance to LOVE it, but there are episodes which explore the race, gender and socio-economic issues which make up for the ongoing, never-ending teenage stupidity factor.   I think most reaction to the book is either like it or hate it.   It was optioned for a movie.  I raised three kids.  I don’t need to live through teen drama on the screen.  I’ll pass on the movie date.

 

 

ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer

Artemis_Fowl_first_edition_coverThis is called a sci fi book, but really, for me it is a YA (or younger) fantasy.  It stars 12-year-old genius, mastermind and general all-around bad boy, Artemis Fowl II.  His father is presumed killed by the Russian mafia, his mother is totally whacked out gaga from the loss of her husband, and Artemis wanders around on his own in the huge mansion plotting revenge and schemes to recover their lost fortune.  He has a superman kind of body guard, huge, powerful, and completely devoted to Artemis.

Artemis, after much intensive research on the internet, comes upon a scheme to capture a fairy and hold it for a big ransom of gold.  Everybody knows that elves have a lot of gold, right?

Which brings us to the land of fairy.  What a clever romp.  Science, budgetary concerns, and being forced to live underground these days, fairyland is suspiciously like bureaucratic human-land.  The author summed up the series as “Die Hard with fairies.”  I thought it was more like His Dark Materials with fairies.

This is the first in a series of eight Artemis Fowl books.  The first one has been made into a graphic novel, and it looks like there will be a film covering the first two books produced by Disney Films.  I won’t be reading the remaining seven, or seeing the movie, if it ever gets made.  It was cute and clever, but not that cute and clever.