In his “What Makes a Good YA Urban Novel?” column, Horn Book Guide reviewer Randy Ribay discusses books about teens growing up in cities and the issues they face. On a larger scale, the problem novel can be a way for all teens, in any environment and of any background, to find their struggles explored and validated — or at least kept in perspective. These novels from the fall 2013 issue of the Guide tackle a wide range of issues faced by troubled adolescents.
Assistant Editor, The Horn Book Guide
Blythe, Carolita Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty Girl
323 pp. Delacorte 2013 ISBN 978-0-385-74286-3
LE ISBN 978-0-375-99081-6
YA Abused fourteen-year-old Faye hates her Brooklyn Catholic school. After she and her friends violently rob an elderly woman, Faye is drawn back to the scene of the crime and ends up forging a connection with the last person she ever expected. Characters and place ring true in a story about learning what (and who) is really important in life.
Brown, Jennifer Thousand Words
284 pp. Little 2013 ISBN 978-1-316-20972-4
YA When high school junior Ashleigh texts her boyfriend a nude photo, she never envisions that their relationship will take a turn for the worse, resulting in the picture’s widespread dissemination and criminal charges for them both. Brown’s timely depiction of the sexting issue largely refrains from moralizing or nostalgia for pre-technological times, instead adeptly handling the complex emotional fallout.
Carter, Caela Me, Him, Them, and It
312 pp. Bloomsbury 2013 ISBN 978-1-59990-958-5
YA When good-girl Evelyn falls for bad-boy Todd, all bets for a bright future are off after the presumptive valedictorian gets pregnant. The difficult decision becomes whether to keep the baby or give it up, and the narrative’s ongoing debate will keep readers guessing. This is a compelling pregnant-teen story, and the topic is given sensitive treatment by Carter.
Goodman, Gabriel The Alliance
102 pp. Darby Creek 2013 LE ISBN 978-1-4677-0595-0
PE ISBN 978-1-4677-0708-4
YA Surviving Southside series. In a series opener that reads like an LGBT Bluford High, out-and-proud Carmen teams up with oblivious jock Scott to start a gay-straight alliance group after his best friend Jamie is bullied into suicide. The issue is given formulaic packaging, but this hi-lo problem novel is a gap-filler, and Carmen and Scott’s developing friendship is engagingly thorny and complex.
Goodman, Shawn Kindness for Weakness
261 pp. Delacorte 2013 ISBN 978-0-385-74324-2
LE ISBN 978-0-375-99102-8
YA Fifteen-year-old James gets caught dealing drugs, but he only did it to help his big brother. Now he’s locked up in a brutal juvenile detention center. James’s voice has a clarity that plays nicely against the muddled events of his life. Through his story, author Goodman develops themes of violence, compassion, and what it means to grow into manhood.
McVoy, Terra Elan Criminal
273 pp. Simon Pulse 2013 ISBN 978-1-4424-2162-2
YA Nikki’s boyfriend kills a man — and as the getaway driver, she was unknowingly complicit in the murder. After initially lying to the police, Nikki confesses; then she’s arrested, sent to jail, and asked to testify against the guy she loved. This is an unflinching (and explicit) portrait of a troubled teen whose all-consuming devotion to a criminal makes her one, too.
Stevenson, Robin Damage
134 pp. Orca 2013 LE ISBN 978-1-4598-0363-3
PE ISBN 978-1-4598-0360-2
YA Orca Soundings series. Fed up with his parents, seventeen-year-old Theo ditches their family vacation for a Hollywood road trip with his former babysitter, Ronnie, and her son. Theo finds himself in over his head, however, when he realizes that Ronnie isn’t telling him the whole truth. Reluctant teen readers will appreciate the straightforward writing style and mature exploration of kidnapping and alcoholism.
Walton, K. M. Empty
246 pp. Simon Pulse 2013 ISBN 978-1-4424-5359-3
YA Overweight, socially ostracized teen Dell is already reeling from the erosion of all her support systems (broken family, distant friends, etc.) when she’s raped by her former crush; she moves from food to pills to dull the pain. Compassionate and wrenching, this hard-hitting problem novel contains few surprises but evokes Dell’s rage, grief, and ultimate suicidal despair with breathtaking intensity.
From the November/December 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, click here.