The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 3, 2012

Jeana Gockley: Teens face tough scenarios in young adult novels

By Jeana Gockley
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — “How to Save a Life”

By Sara Zarr


Eighteen-year-old Mandy Kalinowski may be naive and inexperienced, but she knows that she does not want her baby to grow up the way she did -- feeling unloved and unwanted. In order to prevent a similar fate, she seeks help online. There she finds Robin MacSweeney and starts laying the groundwork for an open adoption.

Jill MacSweeney is pretty sure that her mother is losing her mind and cannot believe that she would even think of adopting a baby. Granted, she knows that her mother is still grieving the loss of Jill’s father, but adopting a baby feels like a betrayal. Almost like her mother is trying to replace her father with someone else.

In all honesty, Jill just wants things to go back to normal. However, she realizes that will never happen, so she has isolated herself from everyone -- her mom, her boyfriend and even her best friends. So when Mandy comes to live with them, just until she has the baby, Jill is determined not to become involved.

At first, Jill’s plan seems like a good one that might actually work. However, as this emotionally driven teen novel shows, families take on many shapes and forms, and babies have a way of bringing the best out in people -- even those who are determined to remain alone.

This novel is cleverly told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of Mandy and Jill. Readers get to experience both sides of the situation and really get to know the characters. Sara Zarr has written a humorous, compelling story that will leave you rooting for Jill’s newly formed family.

 

“Matched”

By Ally Condie


Cassia Maria Reyes lives in a society where free choice is nonexistent. The officials in charge instruct citizens on what food to eat and what clothes to wear. They assign occupations, choose mates, and they even select the date of death for each citizen.

Nothing is left to chance, and Cassia has always believed that choice is a small price to pay for having an ideal life -- until her 17th birthday when she is matched with her childhood best friend, Xander Thomas Carrow.

At first she feels lucky to be matched with Xander. He is honest and trustworthy, plus he is strikingly good-looking. But when Cassia plugs in her Match microcard to look at Xander’s information, another boy’s face flashes on the screen for an instant, causing her to question the choices that are being made for her.

While one should never judge a book by its cover, this one could not be more perfect. Book browsers will be struck by the simplicity, as well as the image of a long-haired girl, wearing a party dress, trapped in a green-tinted bubble.

“Matched” definitely has the marketing campaign to push it to best-seller status, but more importantly, its engrossing, fast pace will make it hard for readers to put it down. The unfinished ending -- thus meaning a sequel is in the works -- may leave some with a sour taste in their mouths.

While the title is reminiscent of Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” Ally Condie gives it a teen edge by creating a love triangle, though this dystopian fantasy is about much more. She also flawlessly uses Cassia and the book’s supporting cast to draw readers into the internal struggle between doing what society assigns and thinking outside the box.

 

Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at the Joplin Public Library.