Roundup Teens and Tween Books

April 12, 2009|By Los Angeles Times

If I Stay

By Gayle Forman

Dutton / 208 pages / $16.99 / ages 14 and older

Gayle Forman takes on one of the darkest subjects that crops up in the mind of any thoughtful teenager: What makes life worth living? What would the world look like without me? And the ever-popular: How would people behave at my funeral? Dark subjects are a dime a dozen in young-adult literature. The striking thing about If I Stay is that Forman explores all these midnight questions through a most unusual character: a good girl.

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Mia is a parent's dream child. She is a great cellist, she gets along with her parents and adores her younger brother.

On a rare snow day in rural Oregon, Mia's family piles into the car to go for an adventure and is immediately involved in a catastrophic car accident. Mia finds herself watching the rescue efforts in a disembodied state: There are the bodies of her father, mother, brother ... even her own, the only one worth rushing by medevac to a hospital. Mia spends the rest of the novel watching, thinking, remembering, unable to communicate with anyone, but present as her friends and remaining family keep watch over her comatose figure. It becomes clear to her, slowly, that returning to her body or letting go is a choice she will have to make.

Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy)

By Alison McGhee

Scholastic / 320 pages / $16.99 / ages 8-12

Life in the fifth grade is much more complicated than it used to be. All the rules seem to be changing, and Julia Gillian is a great respecter of rules. Julia's best friend, Bonwit Keller, suddenly starts making his own lunches rather than bringing lunches lovingly decorated by his artist mother. This marks the beginning of an unhappy period; all the things that Julia has felt sure of seem to be slipping away. She liked having her parents hide encouraging notes in her lunches; she liked the anticipation of fifth-grade trumpet lessons more than the reality of having to force sound out of an unresponsive piece of metal.

Julia Gillian is at that magic age between innocent childhood and self-conscious adolescence. She can amuse herself by purposefully using old-fashioned, grown-up sounding phrases ("Indeed I do"), but she shores up her confidence by wearing (or carrying hidden in her backpack) a fierce papier-mache mask of her own making, plastered on the inside with those notes her parents used to slip into her lunch. What's a good girl to do when she can't figure out where solid ground is? For a while, she can hide her troubles through subterfuge, but in the end, Julia Gillian is too honest to keep up all the pretenses. And once Julia starts admitting what's giving her trouble, everything gets much easier.

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