Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Home Alone

It seems to be a trend in today's YA literature to include parents that just don't care. Take, for example, the two top-selling teen books on the market:  Twilight and The Hunger Games.  Bella had one parent who lived in a different state and showed up in emails or phone calls.  Her father was a bumbling, embarrassed man who managed to allow his only child to spend too much time with her possessive boyfriend while he fished and patrolled Forks.  Neither parent seemed to bother to keep track of what his/her moody, sullen teenage daughter was doing - whether sleeping with a vampire or riding motorcycles.  Katniss seemed to have one parent who was on top of the situation - her father - but he was dead.  That left Mom, who was terribly wounded by the loss of her husband and allowed her teen daughter to be the pillar of strength in the family.  In short, Katniss ran the show.  

  As a parent, there is no way I want my sons or daughter doing either of these things.  I am, perhaps, too overprotective.  When my sons were 11 and 10, I got mad at my sister because she let them walk down the street alone to get ice cream.  I still check the yard (3 acres) periodically to make sure the boys (now 15 and 14) have not been abducted and I am panicky if my 10 year old daughter wanders to a neighboring store in the mall without me.  The thought of them driving or riding in a car with another teen is downright alarming to me.  All of this may indicate that I need to cut the apron strings, but I can't help it.  I love them.

Teens want to read about teens who don't have overprotective parents, I suppose.  Twilight would not be quite the same if Charlie had checked Bella's bedroom just once and discovered her undead boyfriend freezing up the place. If Katniss had to take her mother with her, Peeta might have been less forward.  Scads of other teen novels fail to make parents accountable, but it's all part of the selling plan.  I guess I want some sexy romance too, and that's hard to manage if parents are hovering around. (It's also hard to accomplish with kids around.)  The book reviewed below, Starters by Lissa Price, gets rid of all parents.  Doesn't help the book much in my opinion, but I guess it's what teens want... 

Callie Woodland is a Starter, a person under the age of 20 who has survived the Spore War's deadly onslaught.  Unfortunately, Callie's parents and all other adults ages 20-60 did not survive the war, leaving hundreds of homeless orphans to fend for themselves.  The Enders are not much help.  Ranging from the age of 60 to 200, most of the silver-haired citizens are more concerned with themselves and wealth than with the starving children left by the deadly bio-agent released during the conflict.  Callie must find a way to take care of her younger brother Tyler, who is ill.  Prime Destination seems to be the only way she can earn money, even if it is illegal.  Specializing in making Enders young again, the agency promises Callie a hefty sum if she will allow her body to be rented by Enders who want to feel and look like a teen again.  Reluctantly, Callie agrees and falls into an unconcious state while various elderly people use her body to experience youth once again.  On the third time, however, something goes wrong.  What is supposed to be a month-long rental ends abruptly, and Callie finds herself living the life of a wealthy Ender named Helena who speaks to Callie inside her mind.  The voice warns her to stay away from Prime Destinations, and then leads Callie into a plot to expose the agency's owner, known only as the Old Man, and his dark vision for the future.  Along the way, Callie meets Blake, the attractive great-grandson of a senator involved in Prime Destination's plot.  She is instantly drawn to him, but is torn as she must choose between exposing the senator and making Blake trust her.  The  evil presence  of the Old Man threatens Callie, and her quest becomes more than just putting a stop to his plan.  Instead, Caliie must save her brother and reveal the identity of the Old Man before he ruins the lives of thousands of teens in a war-scarred society.
This post-apocalyptic tale is different than most others, and leaves a funtctioning society in place.  However, the disapperance of all parents leaves the plot wide open for teens to do as they please when they please.  Like many YA novels, Startersfeatures a main character who is driven by desperation, and has no adult resources to rely on or to guide her.  While many other YA books seem to make adults invisible or ignorant, Price's book eliminates them altogether.  The absence of adults is a plus for young readers who certainly have enough adult "guidance" in their own lives.  It is troubling, however, that many YA novels seem to avoid writing strong, helpful and postive adult characters altogether.
The book does parallel many other books of this genre, and will satisfy readers who are searching for another book like the popular Hunger Games series.  However, the parallels may be   too close for some readers' enjoyment, and they may find  themselves creating a mental list to be checked everytime a plot element occurs that is similar to the popular series:  both girls make a sacrifice to save a sibling, both girls have extreme makeovers, both girls find themselves torn between two romantic interests, both girls become the "face" of a movement, and both girls experience the loss of a younger child that haunts them.  At the end of the book, a twist may encourage readers to search for the second book. Some unanswered questions remain, as well, regarding the war and its aftermath.    However, many of the book's resolutions may cause readers to feel as if there is no real suspense to carry them over from the first book to the second.   
 Teen readers will enjoy the book, and those hungry for post-apocalyptic fiction will snag the title quickly.  Readers in grade 7-12 will find Starters appealing, as long as they aren't expecting any plots or characters that are fresh or new.  It is an optional purchase for school libraries.

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