Tag Archives: YA

The trouble with labels

Pile of Books

You’ve heard the old cliché ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? We all have. And sometimes we judge books based on preconceived notions of what we’ll find when we open the covers.

I suppose everybody agrees that books need to be categorised so that people can find fiction that’s of interest to them. I like SF and crime, so they are the labels I look for in the bookstore, and on line. But many books fit more than one category. For instance, Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey series is always found in science fiction. But Elijah Bailey is a working detective solving crimes. The setting is SF, and because of that solving the crime is a little bit different. But I think most crime readers would enjoy the three Elijah Bailey books – if they could get past the SF preconceptions.

That’s the issue with the book I’m going to talk about – Roman.

The main character is a teenage girl, so the immediate assumption is that the book is aimed at YA (Young Adult, ie older teens). It’s not. Older teens would probably enjoy it, but it’s an adult book with supernatural elements. There is no conceivable reason why adults would not enjoy this book. I certainly did, and I was in my late teens half a century ago. (Wow) Indeed, I can cite a few examples where YA supernatural crosses over to adult readers. Have you read Harry Potter? Yep, so have I, several times. And the first couple of stories were children’s books. What about the Twilight series? Not my cup of tea but lots of women loved it. Then there’s Anne McCaffrey’s Pern stories, Dragondrums,  Dragonsong, Dragon Singer. All YA with dragons. Or the incomparable Terry Pratchett, with his Tiffany Aching series, the Bromeliad trilogy, Johnny and the Dead, Johnny and the Bomb etc. I’ve read them all. (Except Twilight. I have standards.)

So please consider this book, if not for yourself, for somebody who has an interest. There are no vampires or dragons.

Here’s the blurb

With the death of her cold-hearted mother, TJ faces life in a decaying town with a father she barely knows. From a future bright with promise to one stripped of everything she’s worked so hard to achieve, TJ needs more than luck in her corner.

Roman is trouble, pure and simple—at least that’s what everyone keeps telling her. He’s a juvenile delinquent with sealed records and a suspicious link to the town’s tragic past, but despite all warnings, TJ can’t ignore his dark pull.

In a coal mining town where lives were once shattered beyond repair, a new evil surfaces, forging strange alliances as both believers and skeptics alike face the inexplicable to save their livelihood, their families and even their faith.

Some secrets are worth keeping, some secrets must find the light of day, but in the end…
some secrets you take to the grave, no matter what the cost.

Here’s my review.

This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.

It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.

And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen-year-old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.

In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.

The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.

The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.

I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.

The book’s available at Amazon Kobo iBooks B&N (coming soon) – and in print.

As Molly would say, “Do yourself a favour…”

The Last Analog Summer – and the vexed question of genre

picture of book coverWhat genre does the book fit under? It’s one of the catch-cries of publishing. Where do we put the book on the shelf? Which other books are its peers? That decision isn’t always easy, and Fred Limberg’s The Last Analog Summer is a case study, if you will.

Here’s the blurb

Welcome to Dodge, Iowa. Population: Frustrated. Why? Because it’s a digital dead-zone…a lonely analog island in an ocean of corn.

Old cars, record players, and some radios work okay—but there are no iPods, no internet, no video games or laptop computers, no cell phones, and some days…not much hope, it seems, for kids who’ve visited the big city.

The government insists an ancient magnetic meteorite is buried beneath the town. That’s what fries everything electronic. Uh-huh…right.

And, hey…pay no attention to the razor-fenced tower complex way out there in the corn, guarded by gun-toting camo-dudes. What secret compound? What power surges?

What a bunch of Bullthit!

Kevin, Tandy, and Deke, just graduated, are desperate to get out of Dodge. Trouble is, they’re flat broke and stuck in a bad ‘60’s movie. A mountain of debt looms, as well as a mountain of doubt.

Then Deke stumbles across ‘The Stratocaster’ at a farm auction. It’s old…way old…a pristine sunburst ’57 Strat. And it’s valuable…way valuable. They know immediately it’s their ticket out, a head-start on a real life…of having a chance.

The Last Analog Summer is a coming-of-age thriller—quirky, funny, tender at times, and full of worrisome twists. Kev, Tandy, and Deke desperately try to hang onto the old guitar. If it isn’t the town punk tricking them at the auction, it’s his misguided mom giving it to the radio preacher at WWJD, because, well… that’s what Jesus would do. And just when they have Reverend Diz on board— Ivy and Remy’s antics, which are antagonizing the camo-dudes to no end as they try to finally get some answers about the tower surges, go horribly wrong.

Will it take an Act-of-God, intervention by the mysterious and enigmatic Elston Gunn, or maybe…an all-out invasion by the U.S. Army to get the Stratocaster in their hands, once and for all?

****************

On the face of it, this is out-and-out YA. After all, a YA book normally has protagonists in their late teens, and the main plot arc is ‘coming of age’. This book shouts all those things.

But wait…

If you said the names Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper , or Ritchie Valens to your average sixteen-year-old, he/she would give you one of those looks. What? Who? But if you’re my age (I’m in my sixties), the songs would play in your head. You might even start to sing the words. If you knew… Peggy Sue… I’ll stop there.

This book commences with a prologue, on that fatal winter’s day when Holly and his mates died in a plane crash. Old farts like me will know the names, know the songs, know about that accident. It’s a brilliant prologue because when it’s finished, the reader knows something the main characters do not, and this fact adds so much to the story of the Stratocaster, which is the star of the show. I found myself thinking, ‘if you only knew’ – rather a lot. Take heed, all those who favour prologues. They’re fine, if they have a real purpose. This one has.

But as they say, that’s not all. The other aspect of this story which takes it over into adulthood, is the town itself. Dodge, Iowa, with its old cars, vinyl records, an all-purpose bar-come-eatery and church on Sundays. The corn is beginning to grow, the water flows around a great, big rock in the creek, where the kids gather to talk and do a bit of skinny-dipping. Kevin angles for a kiss, and hopes for more. School’s finished, so they need jobs. Any kind of job.

Do you remember all that stuff? I do. Maybe not in small-town, middle America, but it wasn’t so very different down in Western Australia when I was growing up. The offset of that, is I appreciate all the modern technology, so I can indulge in a bit of nostalgia, while still understanding how the kids would feel, effectively cut off from their own generation.

So I was well and truly sucked in. The story is told from eighteen-year-old Kevin’s point of view as he wrestles with all those issues of growing up; honesty, trust, sex and doing what’s right. Limberg has drawn all his characters with loving care. You very quickly get a grasp on the teenagers, and their different personalities. The secondary characters are just as real. I could see this story roll out like a movie script. The only people who are a tad two-dimensional are the bad guys, the camo-dudes protecting the Secret of the Tower – but that’s actually okay, because of the way the book is written. That’s what Kevin thinks, who are you, a mere reader, to argue?

This is a terrific story for people of all ages. It would be one real, Goddam shame if the book is tucked away on some shelf labeled ‘YA’. It’s the last place old farts would go and look. Isn’t it? Personally, I’d rather see books put in the adult section. When I was a kid (as in early teens and up), I rarely looked at the kids’ books, I was past them in reading ability, and subject matter. I’m inclined to think that The Last Analog Summer is more likely to appeal to adults, than to teenagers.

Which shelf? I dunno. Is it a mystery? Not really, although there are a few mysterious goings-on. Is it a thriller? No. It’s a lovely little story that brings the past into the present – and in the end, you have to wonder how much has really changed. So… literary fiction, then? Shudder?

I’d love to know what you think.