Friday, May 20, 2011

Inconvenient, by Margie Gelbwasser

Alyssa has the normal problems of a 15 year-old YA heroine (a boyfriend who may or may not like her, a best friend who has grown distant, etc.), but then she also has some less usual issues (being a Russian-Jewish-American and having an alcoholic mother). Her father, in denial, tries to convince Alyssa that her Mom's struggles are just an "inconvenience." However, Russian stereotypes aside, we get to see how Alyssa's mother's disease grows and threatens the entire family through the course of the novel.

I loved the Russian cultural details (reminding me of my many Russian-Jewish friends in the 1980s). I really liked the sensitive and nuanced way that Gelbwasser handled the topic of alcoholism (particularly in a culture that has trouble admitting that it is a disease). Avoiding any melodrama, we get a knowledgeable and sympathetic portrayal of how addiction destroys families. And the ending, as devastating as it is, felt honest and authentic.

With such a strong setting and a superb theme, I was maddened by the cluttered state of the rest of the story. So many themes (racism, the romance with Keith, teen substance abuse, and even the beautiful butterfly imagery that starts off the story and graces the cover) never get developed. I wanted the number of themes weeded down and the ideas allowed to grow. There is so much beauty in the writing, but a more ruthless editor could have made more happen with it.

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