When is YA Not YA?: Contemporary Realistic Fiction for Young Adults

When is YA Not YA?: Contemporary Realistic Fiction for Young Adults
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  When is YA Not YA?: Contemporary Realistic Fiction for Young Adults / Lazrreizce StevenDze Cozriltess aizd Me. Pa~deopp. Fitz11eru.y & Whiteside, 2002. 144 pp. $19.95~10tl1.SBN 1-55041-680-4. Enrtlzly Astoizislziize~zts. Marthe Jocelyn. T~u~dra,003. 179 pp. $9.99 paper. ISBN O-88776-628-5. Hnida Q~rest. Mary Razzell. Harbour, 2002.144 pp. $8.95 paper. ISBN 1-55017-249-2. The Lottery. Bet11 Goobie. Orca, 2002. 272 pp. $19.95 clotll. ISBN 1-55143-238-2. Pnivnlzn's Jozrrizey. deb oral^ Ellis. Gro~uxdwood, 002.199 pp. $7.95 paper. ISBN O-88899-519-9. Pegeelz nizd tlze Pilgi-iliz. L~II ook. 1957. Tundra, 2002.288 pp. $9.99 paper. ISBN O-88776-593-9. Riclcy. Eric Walters. HarperTrophy Canada, 2002. 168 pp. $15.99 paper. ISBN 0-00-639195-8. Starbuck Valley Winter. Rodericlc Haig-Brown. 1944. Hmbo~r,002.272 pp. $14.95paper. ISBN 1-55017-247-6. Eibes. Arth~rlade. HarperTropl~y anada, 2002.134 pp. $15.99 paper. ISBN 0-00-639170-2. Elre Coizfessio~zs f n Heartless Girl. Martha Brooks. Gro~u~dwood,002. 210 pp.$12.95 paper. ISBN 0-88899-476-1.Realistic fiction for teens since tl~e 960s has seen a dramatic increase in what tl~e1970s called tlxe "problem novel" s~1bgeru.e nd what since tl~e 980s has been anew genre called Yo~mg dult or YAfiction. According to Steven VanderStaay, "de-velopment of auto~~omousl~ougl~ts the principal 'rite' at the heart of YA fiction.Generally, it is followed by autono~nous ction, based on that tl~ought,hat enablesthe protagonist(s) to solve a problem thrust upon them by the adult world andaclueve self-reliance" (49).Autono~nous l~ougl~t,utono~nousction, and self-reli- ance are by 110 means solely tl~e rovince of YA novels, obviously. L.M. Mont-gomery's Alzlze of Greeiz Gnbles (1908) treats these issues as well, yet we wo~ddotnormally include Montgomery in the company of Judy Blume, Louise Re~uuson,Brim Doyle, Beth Goobie, or Martl~a roolts. T11e difference, to my mind, is caugl~tby VanderStaay's observatiol~hat a problem is "thrust upon [YA protagonists] bythe adult world." The conflict built into tllat statement captures the fainiliarly ago-nistic relationship between the YAteen and the monolitluc environment she or heinhabits. Tne teens in 'iA fiction become selves by resisting dssirruiatiuit tu CL "Drg- like system of co~~ventionalalues, usually represented by parents or other adultautl~orityigures, and by a school world that serves as the boot camp for assimila- 0 CCL, no. 111-112, Fnll-Wiizter 1 A~ltoilzize-hiver 2003 153  tio1-t. The roots of tl-te genre u-t tl~e950s a-td 1960s anti-establislment co~u-tterc~dh~are not hard to see: tl-te archetype is Holden CaulField.Yet YA iction doesn't have the h-tal word on tl-te a~~tonoinouself.Au-te Slurleydevelops an autonomous personality u-t spades and is often "in ro~~ble"ith tl-teadult world over it. But she does not resist ad~dtutl-tority hu-tdamentally, and l-terdecision to forego ~uuversityo stay witl-t Marilla at tl-te end of tl-te novel is far froms~~b~nissivessimilation to tl-te system. It is an autonomous, self-reliant action dis-playing a fully adult ~naturity.Tl-te ten l-tovels ~u-tdereview here can be rougldy divided half into tl-te YA amp(Brooks, Goobie, Razzell, Slade, and Kropp) and half into tl-te Green Gables camp,for lack of a better term (Ellis, Jocelyn, Haig-Brown, Cool<,and Walters).Tlus divi-sion is indicative of a s~~bsta-thalebate about tl-te place of teens and teen reading in Ca-tada. Do yo~u-tg eople gain self-identity by discovering (perhaps witl-t tl-tehelp of boolcs) tl-teir own col-terence in tl-te face of a ino~-tolitlucor inonolitlucallyfragmented) adult culture, or do yo~u-tgpeople become selves by reinemnbering,recog-tizu-tg,and enacting a col-terence tl-tat the larger 1-t~una-t orld has beq~~eatl-teto tl-tem (perhaps t1vougl-t books), despite its current appearances? Let's start witl-tYA, tl-te first optiol-t. h-t 2002, Martl-ta Brooks won tl-te Governor General's award and tl-te CanadianLibrary Association Yo~u-tg dult Canadia-t Boolc Award for Pue Co~zfesslorzs f nHenrtless Grrl. Tl-te awards are deserved, but on the strength of tl-te plot alone, weinigl-tt wonder why. Noreen, tl-te protagonist, is seventeen and her boyfriend Wesleyis a few years older. Noreen's situation is sad but not wholly u-t~~sual:he comesfrom a hach~redamily and l-tas built up a rind of tluck skin wluch deflects incom- ing gestures, wl-tetl-terrougl-t or gentle, sincere or fake. 011 tl-te rebo~u-td rom oneboyfriend, sl-te meets a-td almost iinrnediately moves in wit11 Wesley. Before longshe's pregnant. Ratl-ter t1-ta-t tell Wesley, she steals lus money and lus truck and ends LIP in Lynda's down-at-l-teels caf6 in tl-te small prairie town of Pembina Lake. Tl-terea motley cast of characters takes her in ~u-ttill-te can find l-ter feet. As sl-te does so,tl-tey do as well.And it's because they do tl~at rooks's novel outskips the cl-tildren's literaturecoml7etihoii Ti1 fact, it's sninetl-Li~gof a stretch to call tlu3 hook a yAiio~rel hToreena-td Wesley are simply tl-te youngest of a number of l-tmting, lonely people whoneed emotional recuperation. I suppose what enables Elle Corlfessiorrs to remainjust inside tl-te YA table is tl-te focus on tl-te heartless adolescent Noreen as she findsa heart. She has to be gentled, almost the way a wild horse needs to be, ai-td 111 providing tl-te gel-ttlkig tl-te walking wo~uided dults aro~md er come back to life.Wl-tat's interesting is that as tl-te adults emerge from tl-teir shells, tl-tey corruna-tdInore a-td Inore of OLU attention and Noreen's antics begin to appear cluldish bycomnparison. Perliaps tlus is as it sl-to~dd e, but it reveals that Brool<sls nterests asa writer (by colnparison with her 1997 YA lassic Borre Dnrzce) are tending towardtl-te concerns of adult characters. Stylistically she is by far tl-te best writer of tl-tegroup under review here. Her touch is ligl-tt, delicate, and precise. Witl-tout ~u-tdonudges, winks, or prods for the readel; Broolcs refracts conventional renderings ofplot, setting, and character t1-trougl-t tl-te prism ofpoetic imagery and metapl-tor intoa gradually enveloping symnbolic significance.Sporring her auri-tor's ri-tauics to "Koger Waters for Tile Vdnii a-td Roberl Cor~nierfor The Cllocolnte Wnr," Betl-t Goobie's Tlle Lottely has no suc1-t audience amnbig~ities. It fits tl-te YA esignation most clearly amoi-tg tlus group of novels. Fifteen-year-old  Sal Haison is tlie Saslcatoon Collegiate Sliadow Council's lottery wuuier, becoin- big victim of the year. Her task is to deliver "duties" to otlier poor sclun~~clcshatShadow Co~uicil ants to liuiniliate. Anyone seen frater~uzu~gitli tlie lottery win-ner will be p~uushed.With tlus system tlie Co~uicilias terrorized the scliool foryears. Sal, of course, lias to learn to stand up to tlie Co~uicil;n doing so she alsolearns tliat tliere are costs to becoming a real person as opposed to just aiotlierbriclc in tlie wall. As well as tlie cenh-a1 problein of victimizatioii aid sli~uuIiIigfacing Sal, Goobie adds ui a numnber of otlier victims tliat malce regular appear-ances in "problem" novels. Tliere is tlie brilliant but weird autistic student, tliestock-ui-trade fat girl, and the witty guy in the wlieelcliair. hi addition, Sal is suffer-ing from stoinacl~ aui due to free-floating guilt related to a repressed memory oflier involvement in lier father's deatli ui a car accident years earlier.Goobie orcliestrates all of this liaidily, using tlie "wall" inetaplior to ~uufylievarious strands. As tlie walls come down for Sal, slie breathes tlie fresh air of hide-pendence. And yet, but for lier boyfriend Brydan and her brother Dusty, slie isalone ui lier iiewfo~uid reedom, still sli~uuied y tlie rest of the scliool and lierformer "friends." Tlus, of course, is tlie quuitessential YA lesson: finally, you're onyour own to malce your life. Goobie's Sal puts it tlus way: "hi a system, you didn'ttlIiIIIc or clioose, you just tried to fit hi. . . . But, slie was finally realizing, it was her perspective tliat mattered tlie most. Ultimately, it was her ow11 fear or desire tliatwould lock her in or allow lier to open to tlie utter possibility of lierself" (253). Tlieimplication here - liat if we are victimized it is because we do it to ourselves - sdisturbing. Tlie ~mderstaiding f the autonoinous self revealed in The Loftery showsno appreciation that selves are embedded in aid reciprocate in defhIiIig c~dtcu'estliat are dyiiamic networlcs of relationslups; in other words, they are iiot simplymonolitluc systems. Interestingly - nd ratlier iroiucally considering tlie setting ina school - lie adult world of teachers and parelits is virtually noii-existent hi tlienovel. Sal lias to give birtli to herself. Tliere is no nurturing to be had elsewhere.Mary Razzel's Hnidn Quest lias a number of affinities witli Brooks's novel, but itis a distinctly lesser acl-~ieveinent. fter lier irresponsible hippie inom leaves lierwith lier Polish grandmotlier, L~ucy yla ~uidertalces quest to h~dier fatlier, TomHaley, a1 established Haida woodcarver. Tlie quest, of course, is also to discoverwlio slie is and where slie belongs. Along tlie way slie enco~uiters ~iuniber fstoclc YA coriventions: infatuation witli a s~~perficialoyfriend, a subseq~~eiitreg-nancy, peer ostracism, racism, wisdom froin elders. She finally finds her fatlier andis helped in overconIiIig his suspicion by lier Haida grandfather ~7110 s sure slielias found lier rightf~il lace. At a traditional potlatch slie and lier baby are givenHaida names. Tlie diffic~dtywith HnicIn Q~iest s tliat it all happens too easily. De-spite all tlie ostensibly world-shaking changes hi Lucy's life, we never really get asense from tlie first-person narration tliat Lucy's world lias been rocked. We floatalong witli tlie plot, on tlie surface of gen~~ieeeling. We are told big tlIiIigs arehappening, but we don't see or feel tliem with tlie necessary force. Unlike Goobie,Razzell ostelisibly wants to show us tliat self-identity is bestowed by our relation-slup with a culture. Yet slie does little more tlian inalce tliat assertion.LI Artliur Slade's Eibes, tlie problem is tlie reverse. Percy Montmo~uit arrateslus own story in wluch he observes and writes detailed notes aid articles on tlievarious groups m Lus high school m ai aitluopolo~calasluon. hutially tlie par-ticipant-observer staice leads to a wry liuino~u, s lie aid his friend Elissa put tlietypical scliool cliques ~uiderhe microscope. As tlie novel proceeds, liowever, Percy CCL, 110.111-112, Fall-Wii~ter A~itoiizire- hive^. 2003 155  lar to that of the cluldren clinging to Parvana: the experiences Ellis reco~ults re soharrowing, the emotional barrage so rele~ltless, l~atwitl~out strong central per-sonality gro~u~ded II olllmon sense to provide perspective, the disorientation couldoverpower a coherent reading. (A case in point drawn from ad~dtiction is JerzyKosu~ski's Tlle Pnirzfed Bird 119651.) Ellis walks a tigl~trope etween doculnentaryrealism and character fiction and mailages to lteep her balance. III Eni.tllly Astorzishii~erzts, Jocelyn introduces us to Josepl~~e,Sr~iall ersoii(the name is preferred to "midget," wluch was coined by P.T. Barnum) who be-coines a member of t11e Museum of Eartldy Astonislunents ~II rder to avoid virh~alslavery and t11us to survive UI tl~e orld of late 1~1eteent11-ce11hiryNew Yorlt City.Similarly to Ellis's Parva~a,osephine's ~u~shal<ableill not only enables 11er tosurvive UI an uutially desolate setting but acts as a catalyst for change by maltu~gher the centre of a new "family" of "attxactions" who resolve to escape from theirexploitive sik~atio~~nd determine tl~eir w11 destinies. III tlus story about pl~ysi-cally big (read: nonnal-sized) and little people, Jocelyn manages an interesting trans-for~nationf our perspective. As tl~eovel proceeds a~de come to lu~owosepl6ne md l~er family," we tend to forget their pl~ysicaldifferences. Co~~seq~~ently,hepowerf~~l~dontrollu~g haracters w11o initially looined so large sl~ulkn moral statureinto two-dimensional purblind villains.Roderick Haig-Brown's Sfn~bzlck nlley Wirzter won the Clddren's Boolt of tl~eYear Award LI~OII its first p~~blication I 1943. Harbour P~~blislungas repu1blis11e.dit as a "J~uuor anadian Classic," a~dl~ought holds LIP very well, it is ~udiltelyoregain a pop~darollowing. T11e story of sixteen-year-old Don Morgan who spendsa winter season on tl~erapline in Starbuck Valley wit11 l~isriend T~~bbyiller in order to earn money for a fisl~lgoat is a far cry from Brool<slsheartless Noreen,Goobie's wall-breaker Sal, or the otl~er A protagolusts we're likely to enco~u~ter II c~~rentare for teens. Wlule YA personalities tei-td to looin large, demanding tl~ecerttre of our attention as they define tl~emselves gainst tlle 11101101itluc "wall,"Do11 Morgan blends into lus world as he learns its inyriad ways. Alarge part of ourfasch~atioi~itl~l~etory is tl~e etailed woodcraft for wl-~ichHaig-Brown is fa- mous.Mk~utiae bout wildlife, trapping, h~u~ting,a~~oeing,~drospecting flesl~es out this tale of deterini~~ation,ul-vival, and slull. None of the detail is grah~itous,however. All passes tl~roughl~erucible of Don's experience as he undergoes whatis in essence a rite of passage to mald~ood.The challenges Don sets l~l-tself r bywluc11 he is confronted as well as the q~~ietatisfaction with which he achievesthem are the lnarlts of a growing mah~rity nd wisdom. Stnrbirck \fnlley Wirzte~. oesnot indulge in YAinwardness; Don is too busy focusing on what lie's got to dealwith in t11world aro~u~dim.Lyn Cook's Pegeerl nllrl tlie Pilgriril was first published in 1957. T~u~draooltsrep~~blisl-tedt to coincide witl~he fiftietl~ u~iversaryf the Stratford Shaltespear- em Festival. Twelve-year-old Pegeen O'Hara helps her motlxer operate a boardingl~ousen Stratford, Ontario and dreams of becoming ail actress 111tl~elewly fou~~dedStratford Festival. One of tl~eoarders, Mr. B., is a Shakespeare devotee from Strat-ford, England who l~as ome as a carpenter to help build the festival stage. Hebecomes Pegeen's mentor md friend as tlle year winds down to the opening of tl~efestival. Mule the book will be wo~-tderfully ostalgic for readers who remember ithom their ci~iickooci, cioi1't expect it to garner a lot of new urlcs. it iluesrl'i wecu iis age as well as Stnrb~~clcnlley Wiiite~.. Whereas tl~e etailed world of Haig-Brow11'sboolt comes to life UI Don's intense engagement with it, the inforll~ation bout Shake- 0 CCL, 110. 111-112, Fnll-Wil~ter Ailtollrile-/liver 2003 157

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Mar 15, 2018
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