Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's not just for teens...

Fourteen year old Arnold Spirit is the misfit protagonist in Sherman Alexie's latest novel, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian. Nerdy, self-conscious and confronted with health problems from birth (like Alexie himself), Arnold struggles to make his way on the Spokane Reservation. He finds an outlet as a cartoonist:

"I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.

That’s the only way I can become rich and famo

Just take a look at the world. Almost all of the rich and famous brown people are artists. They’re singers and actors and writers and dancers and directors and poets. So I draw because I feel like it might be my only real chance to escape the reservation.

I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats."

Arnold's story ends up being a stereotype-bending novel about American Indian identity, about bullying, about boys' fears and bonds. If you've read Alexie before you know his books are unpredictable, and full of unexpected twists - humorous and tragic.

While Alexie's novel is written for teens, it follows a trend in Young Adult Literature of increasingly well-written stories with depth that target teen readers, but also have appeal to adults. (There's some author in England - J. K. something or other - who caught on to that too!) Eragon, a dragon fantasy novel written by a teen homeschooler, has been widely read by adults, as has the bestselling Twilight series, an intense vampire romance by Stephenie Meyer. In fact, many significant bestselling fiction authors are trying their hand at writing books especially for teens, including Isabelle Allende, James Patterson, and Joyce Carol Oates.

So, if you think teen novels are all melodrama and Sweet Valley High series books, take a second look at the Young Adult section at the library. You might be surprised at what you find.

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