Back to fiction for youth adults... Vail and Oates

Rachel Vail, You, Maybe: The Profound Assymetry of Love in High School
Yes, another novel of high-school love. Rachel Vail came along right before the recent explosion of chick lit (back in 1999--I remember her Friendship Ring series causing a splash). What's good about Vail is her ability to go deeper than most into the psychology of young characters' decisions about their lives. In this book, Josie first scorns the attentions of high-school-god Carson Gold, then craves them, and finally we see her internal dialog as she starts to blame herself for every crappy thing he does to her. It's eerily familiar reading, and yet Vail keeps it fresh by showing Josie's step-by-step loss of self. The plot is predictable, but aren't so many high school romance books, really? (Vail's subtitle seems to acknowledge this book as one in an established genre.) Carson likes her less as her independent attitude evaporates, and dumps her just as she has all but fully conformed to his social groups' expectations. And, of course, Josie really is better off without him, her friends take her back... all in all a decent and quick read. The best I would hope for this is that teen readers might see that maintaining independence takes skill, not just attitude and quirky clothes. This remains true after high school as well....

Joyce Carol Oates, After the Wreck I Picked Myself Up, Spread my Wings, and Flew Away
The back cover blurb implies that this is a romance, but it's far more confused than that as a book. Jenna finds herself in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her head. Her mother (and the other driver) died in a head-on collision on a bridge near NYC, and while Jenna survived, it takes a long time for her to understand what's going on. Oates captures this disorientation perfectly, in fragmented prose that swerves between realities. Jenna's father has been absent for several years, is now married with a "new family," and is basically a self-centered jerk, as becomes evidence in his hospital visit. However, even self-centered jerks wish to help someone as wrecked as Jenna has become, and he's clearly distraught when she refuses to come live with him, choosing instead to go to her mother's sister's home. She becomes addicted to painkiller drugs given to her at the hospital, and continues to seek the solace of medication. At her new school, she is so unassertive that most people don't even know her name. She does meet a boy, Crow, who helps her when she has fallen down, and eventually he helps her to overcome her fear of bridges, but the romantic fondness that Jenna feels does not blossom into something more. What I like best about Oates' writing is the prose itself, which captures the brokenness of Jenna's world. It's a quick read for its length, which is about 300 pgs.

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