I’ve just read two 2013 debut YA novels. I have no idea yet how they’ll stack up against other debuts as the year goes on, but both were good enough to keep me reading.
A teenage boy is sitting on the floor in Penn Station with no idea who he is or how he got there. He has a ten dollar bill in his pocket and there’s a copy of Thoreau’s Walden on the floor beside him. Since the book is all he has, he tells the transit police who approach him that his name is Henry David. He hooks up with two homeless kids, Jack and his sister Nessa, who give him a place to sleep, but get him involved with a sinister character named Magpie. Henry, dubbed “Hank” by Jack, manages to get out of New York and heads for Concord, Massachusetts, home of Thoreau, to try to figure out who he is.
Once in Concord, Hank manages to land on his feet fairly quickly, meeting a tattooed, goateed, Harley-driving librarian who takes him in and helps him figure out who he really is (all the while maintaining that Hank is really Thoreau reincarnated). Bits of his past start coming back to Hank, and he realizes that something bad has happened to his little sister. Meanwhile, he is finding out things about himself, just in course of getting through life: he can play the guitar, for example, and he is a runner.
I think the author is trying to do just a bit too much in this novel (I guess Jack and Nessa and Magpie were necessary, as a way to get Hank out of New York, but I wasn’t fully convinced by that section, and having Jack and Nessa show up later in Concord was a bit over the top), and I found myself pulled out of the story occasionally by too-convenient coincidences, but on the whole I was quite engaged with Hank and his story. I actually liked the references to Concord and Thoreau and how that all played into Hank’s musings about his own life. This is a book that will be easy to recommend and booktalk–realistic fiction with a mystery and some suspense, and with a likeable male main character.
Being Henry David is due out from Albert Whitman on March 1, and I read a NetGalley edition.
How My Summer Went Up in Flames, by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, is due out from Simon Pulse in May, and I read an e-galley from Edelweiss. This has a sure-fire attention-getting hook: 16-year-old Rosie is under a temporary restraining order (TRO) for setting her ex-boyfriend’s car on fire and stalking him. And so, of course, she is persuaded by her parents and her attorney to go on a cross-country road trip. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. But it is, at heart, a road-trip book, which are almost always fun, if improbable. Rosie is a fiery and impulsive New Jersey girl of protective Italian/Ecuadorean parents. Her next-door neighbor and pseudo-kid-brother Matty is planning to drive, along with his best friend Spencer and Spencer’s older brother Logan, to Tempe, Arizona, where Logan will be starting school at ASU.
Rosie begins the book as a self-absorbed, somewhat spoiled girl who is still hoping to reconcile with her ex, Joey. Of course, by the end of the road trip, she has learned a few things about herself and a bit about what she wants out of life. Rosie was just a bit annoying at first, but I actually found her character very endearing. I loved the way she was always defending her home state of New Jersey against detractors. I liked that she was close to her parents and brother, and I liked the way she was basically big-hearted and willing to let other people into her life.
Again, not a perfect book, but a great summer read that I’m sure will be popular.
Meanwhile, I saw that Chris Lynch’s Pieces, which you praised yesterday, got a starred review in Kirkus. I will be tracking that one down as soon as I can.