Sunday, July 03, 2005

Love and Other Four-Letter Words, by Carolyn Mackler

Sammie gets uprooted from her life in placid Ithaca and deposited on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her depressed mother, and has to learn to take care of the house, find friends, and cope with her parents' separation. It's a bit much for a girl to deal with, but with a chain of events through the Summer and a new friend or two, Sammie begins to find herself and take control of things. Along the way, she discovers that the people she thought were her friends, aren't. And she finds that choices and decisions can lead to unexpected outcomes.

This is Mackler's first book, and a bit rougher than The Earth, which I read a month or so ago. It doesn't have the horribly convenient happy ending of that second book, and so is a bit more satisfying, but it doesn't flow as smoothly, and it is nowhere near as funny. With time, the book will not age well (references to REM, Jewel, and The Real Life) are unlikely to make sense in a decade or two, but it is snazzy and contemporary (in spite of a slightly rare obsession with 60s folk music). It's a good book, but not her best.

Reading it has also brought me to thinking a bit about YA lit. I'm reading a lot of young woman authors these days writing about younger women protagonists. And a theme is emerging: the characters in these novels are rarely typical for their age. They have a teenager's life and fears, but the wisdom of a 20-something (i.e., the author). And it's almost as if the authors are trying to send a message back in time: if I had known what I know now, this is what I would have done differently when I was a teen. It feels like they are hoping that by telling these stories, they can reach and change their young female readership. Whether that works or not, I'm not so sure. The classic mistake of adults is to imagine that they can create a world where teen's no longer make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of growing up.

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