I seem to be on a kick of reading “boy books” lately. By which I don’t actually mean books FOR boys, but rather books ABOUT boys.
You talked back in January about Chris Lynch’s Pieces, and I finally got a library copy to read. Like you, I’ve never been a huge Lynch fan (despite the fact that he shares a name with a cousin of mine), but I was quite taken with this one. The idea of trying to make peace with his brother’s death by meeting the people who received his organs is an interesting one. Fortunately, Lynch didn’t try to push the idea too far, but rather made it an opportunity for Eric to come out of his grief a little in a safe way–with people who were also damaged in some way, and who had every reason to feel kindly toward Eric.
Winger, by Andrew Smith is a book that is getting a lot of buzz lately, for good reasons. Ryan Dean West is a 14-year-old junior at a boarding school in Oregon. Being younger than his classmates is not fun, but Ryan Dean manages, because he’s smart and funny and because he’s on the rugby team, which gives him some clout with the very jocks who would be likely to haze him otherwise. There are several things going on in this book, including a critical sub-plot about the captain of the rugby team, who is openly gay, and who becomes a good friend of Ryan Dean’s. But I thought the most interesting thread in the book was Ryan Dean’s relationships with two girls–his best friend, Annie, and Megan, the super-hot girlfriend of his roommate. In brief, Annie is the girl he truly likes, but he can’t seem to resist when Megan puts the moves on him.
So, okay, the kid is only 14. He has two 16- or 17-year old girls who want to make out with him. Of COURSE he’s going to take whatever he can get out of that situation! Fourteen is young. Fourteen is immature, no matter how smart the kid is. Fourteen is an undeveloped frontal lobe, in which the “reward” area far outweighs the “risk” area. So I thought it was completely developmentally appropriate that he behaved the way he did.
But it did make me think about our expectations for teenagers. We seem to expect that at 13 or 14 or 15 they will understand what love is and be completely monogamous in their feelings. I wonder if this is related to what Liz Burns was talking about in her blog the other day, about “actual teen vs. adult teen.” Her point was that we see adults (20- and even 30-somethings) playing teens in movies and tv shows, and it skews our idea of what teens actually look like. I wonder if it also skews our idea of what teens behave like. Anyway, just a thought. Smith mostly stays on the “actual teen” side of the line, although it is always hard to tell in these boarding-school books, because the teens have a lot more independence and autonomy than they might in, for example, a suburban setting, where they are driven everywhere by parents.
So, on to Reality Boy, by A.S. King. As always, King’s writing is beautiful, and this story is heartbreaking. We will have to talk at some other point about psychotic Tasha, the enabling mother, and the weak father, but for now I want to talk about her depiction of Gerald. This book reminds me of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted, in that it is a book written by a woman but told in the voice of a teenaged boy–and one, in both cases, who has major anger issues. As with Winger, I thought King did a good job of keeping the depiction of Gerald age-appropriate. He’s 17, and he’s really riding that line between being a kid (wanting to run off and join the circus) and being an adult (taking responsibility for his own life and happiness).
Wise Young Fool, by Sean Beaudoin is narrated by Ritchie Sudden, who tells the story of the year that led up to him being in juvenile detention, alternating chapters with the story of actually being in juvenile detention. Ritchie falls perhaps a little too far on the side of coming across as older than his years. He’s a smart-ass, he’s a rocker, he really is a bit of a wise young fool. (It also just occurred to me that, like Pieces, this could go on our list of dead-sibling books; we’re going to have to suggest that theme to YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks committee!) There were some hilariously funny scenes in this book, as well as some that were overly absurd, but there were also some rather sweet moments. I especially like the developing relationship between Ritchie and his mom’s new girlfriend.
Sometimes it seems like I read a lot of YA books about teenage girls. All of these are focused on the boys, and their feelings, and all of them succeeded to a greater or lesser degree in creating really interesting teen boy characters.
Now, obviously, I was never a teenaged boy (although I had brothers, and boyfriends, and, of course, three sons–plus their (your) friends and the teens I worked with in the library), so I may not be the best judge of how well these four writers do in writing about the issues of teenaged boy-ness. But I am happy to find good YA books about boys that I can recommend to both boys and girls.
What do you think? Do any of these authors get it right?