Two New Novels Show There’s More Than One Side To A Story
I just finished two new novels which use multiple perspectives to tell a story. This technique is neither new nor unusual in contemporary kid lit, but the ways in which these authors wield it, make the stories fantastically realized and totally engaging to read. My mind had to work a little harder to piece together what was happening, because the stories are not so straightforward and have shifting points of view. But I enjoyed having to mentally “chew” on the stories in this way. Maybe you and your young people will too.
Goodbye Stranger, by author, Rebecca Stead, unfolds from numerous vantage points and references of time. The main thread involves seventh grader Bridge, who survived a horrific accident when she was young, and is wondering why she is still alive, what her purpose is, and if she has a special mission in life. She’s exploring her feelings about the strangeness of growing up, and of changing physically and emotionally. She discovers the school’s tech crew, starts a special relationship with a boy named Sherm, and realizes the depth of friendship in her besties, Tabitha and Emily. Her chapters, told in third person, intersect with two other storylines. One involves brief letters from Sherm to his grandfather, who has left Sherm’s grandmother and the rest of the family to live with another woman. The third story is told from the point of view of an unnamed girl, who is caught in an act of betrayal among close friends. These chapters stand out because they are written in second person and move at a different pace of time. While Sherm’s letters and Bridge’s story follow the school year, this particular story unravels in just one day – the same day when all of their stories collide. Short chapters slide effortlessly into one another, even with the nonlinear movement of time. Many themes emerge from the characters’ inner and outer lives and their interactions with one another, including friendship, romantic and platonic relationships, social media, gossip, first kisses, school dynamics, loyalty, betrayal, divorce, sibling bonds, and the pains of growing up. Deft writing, masterful plot lines, highly developed characters, and engaging dialogue are set against the contemporary, urban backdrop of New York City. A fantastic novel, highly recommended for middle graders and up. Readers who enjoy this may also want to read Stead’s earlier works: When You Reach Me; Liar & Spy; and First Light.
- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Published by Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. 289 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-385-7431-4
Challenger Deep is a new, young adult novel by veteran author, Neal Shusterman. Rolling vignettes tell the story of Caden Bosch, a teenage boy torn between worlds. In one reality, he is trying to navigate his inner and outer life within the landscape of school, and home, and eventually a treatment facility. Through Caden’s everyday challenges, readers get a sense of his intelligence, artistry, emotional depth, humor, and keen understanding, as well as the therapeutic effect of drawing, how he uses the process to “push stuff out” of his mind. His other reality places him on a ship headed for the deepest point on earth. On board is an ornery captain, a scheming parrot, larger-than-life crew, and shipmates, who like Caden each have special jobs. Caden is appointed artist in residence, and must use his drawings to document the ship’s journey. These ship vignettes are gripping – from the details of life at sea and the cryptic conversations between Caden and the captain, to the enchanted figurehead and the rise of mutiny. The shifting contrasts and connections between Caden’s worlds show his journey across the dark sea of mental illness. As he steers through mental confusion and the haze of medications, his altered sense of perception warps and amplifies. His solo trip to the very bottom and slow rise back to the top leads to an emerging clarity, which brings the book to a hopeful conclusion. The first person narrative is honest and open, offering readers an intimate look at the inner workings of schizophrenia. If the reader can find footing in the slippery passages of Caden’s mind and stick with the story, they will discover how all the pieces fit together at the end. Line drawings add a visual element to the experience and serve as a connecting point between the worlds. What makes the drawings even more poignant is that they were made by the author’s son, Brendan Shusterman, while he was in the throes of mental illness. A heartfelt author’s note about his son’s experience, plus a resource section for anyone needing help with mental illness can be found at the back of the book. Eerie, sad, beautiful, real, and true. A powerful read for young adults.
- Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, illustrations by Brendan Shusterman. Published by Harper Teen of Harper Collins, 2015. 313 pgs. ISBN: 978-0-06-1113411-1
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.