What a father Salman Rushdie would make! Imagine being read to from a book that opens with “a boy named Luka who had two pets, a bear named Dog and a dog named Bear.” And then to learn that the former “was an expert dancer, able to get up onto his hind legs and perform with subtlety and grace the waltz, the polka, the rhumba, the wah-watusi, and the twist, as well as dances from nearer home, the pounding bhangra, the twirling ghoomar (for which he wore a wide mirror-worked skirt), the warrior dances known as the spaw and the thang-ta, and the peacock dance of the south.”
It is important to set the parameters, or the standards, of a Young Adult novel right up front when reviewing one in a public forum. The Young Adult novel is a genre that allows authors to explore edgy content within the typical bathos of teen self-consciousness. If a novel is to be successful in this market, it must ambitiously try to underscore topics such as murder, sickness, abuse, heroin addiction, suicide, sexuality â€“ pretty much any topic with an “edge” â€“ and have a central character that is either surrounded by the subject, or is going to potentially be lost to the subject. Take Romeo & Juliet, minus out the words of William Shakespeare, put it in first person narrative form â€“ letâ€™s let Romeo be the narrator â€“ and you will be soundly situated in a Young Adult novel.
In the baking hot Texas summer of 1899, Harry, the oldest of eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate’s six brothers gives her a notebook in which she begins to write down her observations of nature. She also longs to get her hands on Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but the local librarian says it’s barely fit for adults, let alone a child. Calpurnia’s mother is busy riding herd over her seven active offspring and running the house, while her father oversees their cotton acreage and the mill. Neither parent nor all the brothers seem to have a scientific bone in their bodies. In the Tate family, Darwin’s note that “the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather’ seems on the money: Calpurnia’s granddaddy is a rather remote man who retired from commerce years ago to take up the pursuits of a naturalist. One day he comes across his granddaughter making her notes, and they begin exploring their mutual interest together. The old man mentors her, even opening one of his locked cabinets to haul out his copy of the book she so wants to read.
Laurence Gonzales begins Lucy in the Congo, where Jenny Lowe, an American primatologist with a PhD in anthropology, is studying bonobos in their native habitat. She abruptly flees her hut when the insurgents resume their fighting, and makes her way to the camp of David Stone, a British researcher. Sadly, the revolutionaries had already been there, leaving one survivor, fourteen-year-old Lucy. Jenny takes Lucy back home to Chicago, not realizing that they are about to embark on a long and agonizing journey. For Lucy is no ordinary teenager; she is a genetic human-animal hybrid, created from the DNA of her father, David Stone, and a bonobo.
Told through the voice of a high school narrator in the French town of Montperilleux, 03 captures the emotional rootlessness of the teen years brilliantly. The story revolves around the narratorâ€™s interest in a fellow teenager, a girl who is mentally handicapped and who therefore travels to a special school on the outskirts of town. Even if the narrator is gifted and his mental faculties way ahead of the girlâ€™s, he finds many similarities between himself and the girl. â€śI was like her, an overprotected schoolchild in a town where nothing at all could plausibly have distracted me from my records and books for any length of time,â€ť he says.
Twelve-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow Spivetâ€”T.S. for shortâ€”is as quirky as his name suggests. Extraordinarily gifted, his one way of making sense of the world around him, is to map it all out. So it is that Reif Larsenâ€™s debut,THE SELECTED WORKS OF T.S. SPIVET, has many of these maps and diagrams on the marginsâ€”a glimpse into the workings of a gifted mind. Worth mentioning are maps describing the locations of McDonalds in a Midwestern town, the many physical forces acting on a rodeo cowboy and the long list of random names picked by an IBM 1401 for the soda, Tab.