Wednesday, May 28, 2008

cutting ties in YA

Reading, writing, and everything else was interrupted by removal of a gangrenous gall bladder early in May. There must be a short story hidden in the fog of that experience. I particularly recall being awakened every two hours in the darkness when the electronic LCD module, with its blinking red display, was wheeled up to my bedside. "Vital signs check," calls a voice from somewhere behind the Star Wars resemblance of R2D2. Fingertip clipped into a sensor, thermometer beneath my tongue, and a blood pressure wrapping on my arm: I wait for R2D2 to announce whether I am still with the Force, or fading.

Before going into the hospital, I finished reading "A Story of a Girl," by Sara Zarr, a 2007 YA novel, and "The Member of the Wedding," by Carson McCullers, an old classic that could be characterized as YA, also. The two novels are very different in tone, mood, and style of writing, but at least one similar, elemental plot line threads through both stories: the urgency as a chosen time for the protagonist to leave home approaches.

In 'Story,' Deanna's father had discovered her having sex with an older boy in his car when she was barely a teen. Not only does it undermine her relationship with her dad, the boy spreads the story around the high school, and Deanna's reputation suffers over the next several years. To complicate the family dynamics, Deanna's older brother has had to marry early, after getting his girlfriend pregnant, and he and his wife and child live in his parents' basement. Another defeat for dad's shaky morale. Deanna dreams of finishing high school and then escaping her situation by teaming up with her brother and his family to get a house together. However, the brother realizes he's got his own growing up to do, and plans for he and his wife to move out on their own, sans Deanna.

The story has strong emotional content, but the father, and mother, come close to being 'flat,' barely sympathetic figures. That's a hard writing obstacle to overcome, because with Deanna as first person narrator, we can't really get inside dad's head to experience his call on our sympathies.

"Member…" is a wonderful read, almost Faulkner in mood and tone. It describes the awful loneliness and anxieties of Frankie, a twelve-year old girl, and her obsessive decision that she's going to leave the house of her widower father following the wedding of her brother, newly home from the Army. She conjures up immature images of the adventures they'll have as they travel the world together. As the wedding date approaches, Frankie raises the tension of the story by naively accompanying a boozy, on-leave soldier to his hotel room. The conversations Frankie has with her father's black servant woman and her friends transport us back to the painful disparities between the races in the old South. A deep and satisfying classic story.
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