WARNING: This post about holiday reading is about the books I have read over the holidays, not books with holiday themes or topics. I started with The Selection by Kiera Cass, moved to Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead and then The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. I really liked all of them.
First, The Selection takes place in a dystopic world, a genre I will continue to enjoy as long as authors keep finding a way to make it fresh. Cass's take is fresh. It is one part The Hunger Games in that young women from each of Illea's 35 districts is chosen to compete to marry Prince Maxon, making this one part The Bachelor as well. What could have been written as a shallow story instead asks questions about choosing a spouse, ruling a nation, staying true to oneself, and class systems. The main character, America Singer, a 5 (a relatively low caste) is automatically made a 3 when she is chosen to compete, thus helping her entire family to a better life. They are all artists and musicians who make their living performing for 2s. America's selection ensures they will have food and work steadily. She will also have the opportunity to marry well if she is not chosen by the prince. As always there is a wrench, she is in love with someone else, her childhood sweetheart, a 6 who does not have much hope for upward mobility. This is the first in the series of what will undoubtedly be a trilogy. The second book is due out in April. I have high hopes, but am warily optimistic given my general observations about second books.
Rebecca Stead is quietly brilliant. I loved When You Reach Me, which I even reread recently, which I rarely do. Liar & Spy is almost as good. It too has some revelations that do not come until the end, but are hinted at throughout. Some of these revelations I was able to figure out early on. Others were a surprise. The main character Georges (Yes, Georges, named after the painter Georges Seurat.) and his parents have just moved away from their house in Brooklyn to an apartment because his father has lost his job. In the new building, Georges meets Safer, a boy his age and his younger sister Candy and older brother Pigeon along with their eccentric parents. It really is a great story addressing some standard middle school issues along with Georges' personal struggles.
Most recently is The Miseducation of Cameron Post. This one addresses a pretty difficult topic I think needs to feature in more fiction. The story begins with the death of Cameron's parents in a car accident, but this does not happen before Cam and her best friend kiss, for real. Cameron's born again aunt Ruth and her grandmother move in to the family home. By this point Cameron is pretty sure she is a lesbian, but is not entirely comfortable with this realization. She finds herself in love with Coley Taylor who "turns her in" at which point the next segement of the book takes Cameron away to Promise, a school for sinners, where they embrace God to overcome their sin of same sex attraction. I think that more fiction addressing homosexuality for middle school and high school age students needs to exist. These days, some children begin to wonder about themselves in elementary school and may not have anyone to speak with. Fiction can provide some initial guidance that may help them to open up to a trusted adult. My only quibble with the book is that is it set in 1991-93. I think the author may misguidedly feel that what happens to Cameron would not be possible in 2012, but I fear she is mistaken. Small societies, small towns, and small minds have not disappeared.
I am not sure what I am going to pick up next as I have a stack I had intended for break reading, but I always seem to have the urge to read something outside the stack. We shall see...we shall see.
Happy New Year!