Archive for the ‘young adult’ Tag

Seeing What We Want to See   Leave a comment


Don’t be fooled by the fact that Erika L. Sanchez’s novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, falls into the Young Adult category. Family relationships, immigration, education and mental health are among the issues Sanchez addresses. These are matters that should be of interest to everyone, regardless of age.

Julia Reyes, a bright and funny 15-year-old girl, lives with her family in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Her parents entered the U.S. illegally years before and work in menial jobs. Julia dreams of being a writer and going to college in New York City. Her older sister, Olga, considered the good and obedient daughter, has just died in a freak accident.

Julia and her parents express their grief differently, but none are able to reach out to the other for support. Julia has always been at odds with her mother while her father has grown more distant. Much to Julia’s annoyance, Olga was idolized by everyone around her – especially her mother. Yet, Julia discovers some questionable items in Olga’s bedroom leading her to suspect no one in her family truly knew her seemingly perfect sister.

The author incorporates humor and has crafted well-developed characters to move the narrative beyond the life of a poor inner city girl. Julia is aware of the limitations around her, but doesn’t want them to define her. As she struggles to learn more about Olga, she learns things about her parents and herself. Fortunately, Sanchez uses a light hand when conveying such heavy themes.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2017
344 pages


Exclusion by Design   3 comments

Hate crimes, altruistic youth, deception and not fitting in are themes driving James Klise’s The Art of Secrets. Although this falls into the young adult genre, there’s no age limit to the ideas behind his novel.

Fifteen-year-old Saba Kahn is a first generation American of Pakistani descent. Her family’s two-bedroom apartment and all its contents are lost in a fire, believed to be a hate crime. Saba is a scholarship student at a Chicago private school, where the student body rallies behind two fellow students who conceive of a fundraiser to help the Kahns.

Klise is masterful in the way the story unfolds. His characters are vivid, thanks to each sharing his or her perspective and unique voice. Each chapter is told either through the use of a diary, emails or in separate one-sided conversations with a reporter, the police and an insurance adjustor. It’s clever and effective. Beginning with Saba’s diary entry a few weeks after the fire, the story follows the fundraising efforts, with asides from school administration and their not-so-subtle efforts to appear open-minded. Saba, a bright, gifted student, is suddenly the center of attention. Those who had previously walked past her in the hall suddenly see her. She’s somebody. Meanwhile, Javier, an exchange student from Spain, is nearly invisible to those around him, including his host family who insist on calling him “Savior.”

This poignant story, with a twist, is filled with humor as Klise demonstrates the ease of believing something we want very much to believe.

The Art of Secrets
Four Bookmarks
Algonquin, 2014
255 pages


Stopping is Not the Same as an Ending   2 comments


Hazel, the insightful narrator of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, is a 17-year-old who’s fought cancer most of her life. While talking about another book, she could just as easily be talking about this one: “But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.” Green has written much more than that, and it comes nowhere close to sucking.

This is about living with the knowledge of death’s inevitability loitering closer than it does for most, especially the young. Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer survivor’s support group. Eyes meeting across a semi-circle of young adults in varying degrees of bad health may not sound romantic, yet it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship between two young adults who teeter alarmingly near to death’s grasp.

Hazel is an endearing character: intelligent, witty and aware of what she has in life, versus what she might be missing. She does not want to be defined by her diagnosis. Although Augustus might be a little too good to be true, he is fun and expands Hazel’s world.

Through a shared passion for the book that is “not a cancer book,” which simply stops with no real ending, the pair find a way to look toward the future. They want to know what happens. Yes, this may be a metaphor for their lives, but it’s far less dismal than that.

A few plot twists help overshadow the novel’s predictability. The story’s beauty is based not on what’s lost, but is grounded on what’s gained.

The Fault in Our Stars
Four Bookmarks
Dutton Books, 2012
313 pages