Saturday, December 22, 2007

coming-of-age inside a mystery

Just finished "Edenville Owls," by Robert Parker, a recent MG/YA novel about an indie club of Middle School basketball players who take on local JV school teams, the team leader's journey toward discovering his first girlfriend, and a diabolical figure threatening their eighth grade teacher. The author has published over fifty bestselling adult detective stories before this, his first book for young readers. The story is set right after WWII, so I can relate to the boy's descriptions of his favorite radio stories and other background. The mystery part of "Owls" is a little bizarre, but the story has its charms.

I enjoyed the nostalgic asides of the narrator, our protagonist, talking about the radio shows he liked—those old adventure and detective stories, even the commercial jingles mentioned struck a memory chord, as well as the double-feature "B" movies appearing at the local theater on the weekend. Parker fed some of these nostalgia trips into the story as two-page chapters, in italics, to set them off from the ongoing plot line. While it was interesting to me revisiting that old stuff, I wonder how well it worked for a young reader today? Well enough, I suppose, since the story included lots of poignant moments, and the ongoing excitement of the basketball competition, and the mystery. On the "short" side, not much literary irony to mull over, but hey, it was a pretty good read.

Monday, December 10, 2007

thoughts on a genre label

The New York Times Book Review recently listed "Out Stealing Horses" by Tor Petterson, a book I read this past year, as one of the 10 Best Books of 2007. The book encompasses a coming-of-age story of a Norwegian boy, Trond, beginning with a summer in 1948 when he lived with his father in a rustic cabin near the border between Norway and Sweden. The title derives from the boy and a local friend stealing rides on a farmer's horses at night. Other accounts of Trond's subsequent summer experiences at the cabin are given as reflections when Trond returns to the cabin to live out his final days as an old man. We learn that Trond's father was part of the Norwegian Resistance against the occupying Nazi forces, and of an occasion when Trond accompanies him on one of his trips into Sweden. As Trond becomes an older teen, he helps his father float logs, cut from their cabin property, down the river to a sawmill in Sweden. The quiet, ending days of Trond in the wintery cabin have an almost poetic simplicity.

I suppose I would have wondered whether to pitch this novel, if it were mine, wishful thinking, as a YA or general literary fiction novel. Would it have been any easier to market as one or the other? Would it have been as successful if marketed as a YA novel? Would the declining arc of Trond's life, no matter how beautifully written, engage a young reader?
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