To complete my feverish reading for a potential all school-read, I read two more titles. To recap, the books had to fit the criteria below:
1. Under 350 pages.
2. No movie version
3. An appropriate read for grades 7 to 11 (I know. Kind of impossible, right?)
4. Has themes that can be discussed in class (mostly English, but would be great if it could be broached in other classes as well- history, maybe? Math and Science as a bonus?)
True Confessions of a heartless Girl by Martha Brooks
Despite the terrible cover (I don’t know why Canadian books do this- it is like they want to shoot themselves in the foot) Brooks is a well-known author in the Canadian YA scene. I had read her book Mistik Lake and had been impressed. She deals with complicated family lives, young love and growing up with nuance and subtlety as well as economical and lyrical writing.
So I was hopeful about True Confessions. Did it live up to my expectations?
Expectations are always traitorous things. Though it did not, I suspect it wasn’t as much the book as it was me. True Confessions follows the contrail of destruction of young Noreen. Pregnant, alone and having stolen her boyfriend’s truck and money, she ends up in Pembina Lake. There she is taken in by Lynda, the owner of the local cafe. Lynda herself is broken, having run away from her abusive husband and her life as a teacher a couple of years before. They are watched over by Dolores, an elderly lady who works part-time at the cafe and is herself dealing with the loss of her adult daughter the year before. Although Noreen screws up at every turn, she is able to find redemption through the unconditional kindness of these women. And in the end, Lynda and Dolores find redemption by discovering their own strength and capacity to love.
I liked it , but not more than that. It took me a moment to figure out who we were following at the beginning- the first two paragraphs of chapter one follow Dolores then changed without warning to Lynda at the cafe. I am not sure why, but the book fell a little flat for me. Dolores too wise, Lynda too broken, Noreen to selfish and angry. It was a novel of toos. However Noreen’s constant screwing up as well as her gradual ascent from the abyss of selfishness she had been wallowing in was well done. In the end it is a hopeful novel, one with no pat endings, or loose ends tied up, but hopeful.
This one actually made it on the shortlist and I am not surprised. It is new and shiny and has a dramatic plot. Mia has a beautiful life- she is seventeen, has a promising career as a cellist in front of her, a loving family and a wonderful boyfriend. All goes to hell in a hand basket when her family’s car with all of her family in it collides with a logging truck.
This happens at the beginning. The rest of the novel is Mia’s out of body experience. She is able to move freely around witnessing the devastation the accident has caused. She herself is in a coma teetering on the edge of life and death. She needs to make an important decision: should she stay and live or should she let go?
I know. Dramatical.
Although the writing was prosaic at times and in my opinion not at the caliber of the other two books that made the shortlist (How I live now and Thirteen Reasons Why), it had a lot going for it. First of all, an original storyline. It was also nice to read about a un-screwed up family and teenage girl. Mia had her problems of course, but she was grounded , yo.
And an aside: this was the first YA book that I have read where I saw myself reflected in the mother, not the teen. A little coming of age moment for myself, I think. Her parents were part of the 80s and early 90s punk scene on the west coast. Though they don’t understand her love of classical music (she was raised on the Misfits) they fully support her.
And as a conversation piece, what more could you ask for? What happens after you die? Do you think it is possible to have an experience like Mia’s? What would you do?
It was also a love story, showing a very real, healthy and moving young love. This was also a nice change of pace from all the love triangles and/or destructive relationships you read about in YA.
All in all, a lovely, thought-provoking read.