I’ve recently finished a really great book. I loved it, and I’m struggling – even 2 weeks on – to not talk about it at work, at lunch with my friends, on the phone to my mum, on twitter, on facebook, to strangers on the bus … The book was John Green’s ‘The Fault in our Stars’ and if you’ve not read it – or not read any of Green’s books – I strongly recommend you do … then we can talk about it together.
‘The Fault in our Stars’ is a brave and unsentimental story of young people growing up with cancer. It’s also a great example of writing economically (which fits in nicely with Scott’s blog from yesterday). Green writes YA literature at its very best – which, to me, means YA literature that’s not really for ‘young adults’ at all, but new, nostalgic adults trying to remember, examine and understand what it was like to be an adolescent.
After reading ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, I decided to investigate the YA books on authonomy. I’m pleased to say, there’s no shortage of it; however, there aren’t many that don’t also cross over into fantasy – which is a fair, if unfortunate, reflection of the market for YA in general. I wanted to use this week’s one to watch to recommend one of the exceptions:
Like most great YA, ‘Stones’ addresses real issues that young people contend with in modern society: family struggles, alcoholism, secrecy, friendship, and homelessness. At its heart is Coo – a girl growing up in the shadow of a family tragedy: the alcoholism and death of her brother – who, truanting from school one morning, meets an unconventional trio of Brighton homeless.
The writing style also matches the genre well. Each chapter is prefaced by an excerpt from Coo’s ‘Thought Diary’, which I love as a concept, and really ties the narrative together. I would like a few less similes – for instance, I’d prefer something like ‘commuters barge past me, holding shields of stinking coffee’ to ‘commuters barge past me the other way, cups of stinking coffee held before them like shields – but the imagery itself is strong. The opening scene captures Brighton seafront brilliantly, whilst the flashes of Coo’s nightmares that pierce the scene set up just the right tone of intrigue.
In the author’s own words:
Being threatened by a mad tramp seems just more bad luck to ‘Coo.’ Instead it leads to a meeting that will change her life forever.
Coo’s alcoholic brother Sam has died and her family is falling apart. Unable to speak of her own role in his death, or forgive her parents for failing to protect her, she is searching for a lifeline.
Truanting by the Brighton seafront, Coo believes it’s just another bad day, but then she meets three people: an aggressive tramp called Mad Alec; his mate ‘Banks’ and a boy named Joe.
Banks is not a regular tramp. He speaks of Wittgenstein, forgiveness and the power of stones, but at the same time there are reports of attacks in the area. Coo begins to suspect Mad Alec, but Banks seems determined not to listen.
Through a strange midnight feast, a near drowning and the unravelling of secrets, the girl and the tramp seek a chance of redemption, until they find that their feelings are dangerously astray.
Mad Alex finally confronts Coo and she learns that there are limits to forgiveness, and that some broken things can never be mended.
‘Stones’ is a story aimed at the teenage market but also appeals to adults. It is set in present day Brighton.