I suspect I’m not alone among book addicts in having piles of “To-Be-Read” (TBR) books all over my house. One of the advantages of having writing gigs and conferences cancelled and my public library being closed is that I’m doing lots more dipping into books I’ve always meant to read but never have.
In the last couple for weeks, I’ve been especially delighted to discover a couple of terrific young adult novels. One is Courtney Stevens’ powerfully moving debut novel, Faking Normal, which came out back in 2014.
The protagonist, Alexi, pretends that everything is fine in her life, but in private, she compulsively scratches herself while hiding in her closet. She’s never told anyone that she was sexually assaulted by an adult who is close to her family.
And then Bodee Lennox, an awkward and nearly friendless teen, comes to live with Alexi’s family after witnessing his abusive father murder his mother. The two form an unlikely friendship. Bodee gives Alexi the courage to reveal her painful secret, and she helps him make the difficult decision to testify against his father.
After immersing myself in research for my first book, a nonfiction work, Teen Rape, Stevens’ subject matter is something I feel passionately about. Stevens doesn’t preach, but she provides a compelling portrait of the devastating aftermath of sexual assault on young people, and the power of supportive friends to promote the healing process. Bodee is a particularly unforgettable and irresistible character.
The second YA novel I recently read and loved is Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us In the Light which came out in 2018. This richly layered story centers around Danny Cheng. As the novel opens, high school senior Danny is on top of the world. A talented artist whose parents have been supportive of his career aspirations, he’s just won early admission and a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design. And then things begin to unravel on the home front. Danny discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet full of old letters and a file on a powerful Bay Area family. His mother reveals that he had an older sister but claims she has died. Soon, his highly educated father has lost his job as a laboratory scientist, and the family loses their long time home and must move. Danny’s parents have kept secrets from him—secrets about why his parents have moved so much, why they lost their documentation as immigrants, and what really happened to Danny’s older sister.
Meantime, Danny struggles to come to terms with his sexual identity and his strong attraction to his closest friend, Harry Wong.
The writing throughout is beautifully evocative, and we can’t help but root for Danny and his family.
There you have it—two wonderful books which were in my possession that I somehow neglected to read for years. I’m so glad I did. And now I’m on the prowl for more gems in my TBR pile of books!