Teen angst – no longer just for kids!

Here at Everett Public Library we have an ever-growing Young Adult section which caters primarily to teenagers. This relatively new category in the book world did not exist when I was a stripling, back in those times when it snowed every day and the trolley cars had cured hams for wheels.

One of the functions of young adult literature is to explore the feelings of alienation that teens typically experience. When I trod the boards of this age group I read science fiction almost exclusively, and I think that in a way this genre catered to the estranged youth of my generation. Sci-fi books frequently featured characters who felt alone and unloved or had no family or had a seemingly impossible quest to fulfill. The protagonists were frequently underdogs.

As I matured chronologically, sci-fi began to lose its appeal and other genres became the mainstay of my reading. Which is not to say that as an early-middle-aged-elderly-young-person I don’t still feel isolated, awkward and uncapable. I just read different books.

But now I regress, and once again I’m reading a lot of young adult literature. Perhaps because it’s a new-ish genre (which maybe isn’t even the right word), there is a freshness and frisson of creativity in the best young adult books (of course there’s also a ton of dreck) which I often find missing in adult literature. I’m definitely not choosing these tomes to embrace the main character’s sense of aloneness, I simply enjoy the books.

Two titles that I’ve recently come across, which initially don’t seem closely related, have struck me as variations on a theme: Every Day by David Levithan and Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff.

In Every Day, the main character is, well, really hard to describe. Each morning, A (the name he/she has taken) wakes up in a different 16-year-old’s body. Male, female, straight, gay, injured, terminally ill, an accomplished athlete. A, who I guess I’d have to think of as a bodiless soul, is the same regardless of whose body he (gotta go with “he” to simplify the pronoun situation here) inhabits, but he also has access to that person’s memories. A simply tries to make it through each day without messing up that person’s life. It’s not possible to create relationships because the next day he will be in a different body in a different place. This might sound bizarre and annoying, but it’s just normal life for A. Until the day he meets Rhiannon and begins to fall in love with her. Going against everything he’s always stood for, A tries to build a relationship with Rhiannon while moving from body to body.

Boy Nobody introduces a 16-year-old who suffers from a different kind of alienation. At age 12 the unnamed protagonist is kidnapped by the organization that killed his parents. They train him to be the perfect assassin, and when his education is complete he goes to work for them. For each job he assumes a new identity, infiltrates a new group of “friends”. The lifestyle of a killer does not allow meaningful relationships to develop. Eventually, much like A in Every Day, Boy Nobody falls in love with the daughter of one of his targets. He is torn between being faithful to the organization and completing his mission, or running off with this girl and starting a new life.

Although these two books are very different, they both feature solitary people who are forced into isolated existences, people who seek out forbidden relationships even while knowing that they’re certain to be doomed. This is a pretty strong statement about basic human needs and the resiliency of the human spirit in impossible circumstances. It’s ultimately a hopeful message, which is always appreciated by insecure, angst-ridden peoples of all ages.

Be sure to visit A Reading Life for more reviews and news of all things happening at the Everett Public Library.

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