Gramps, who was born in 1990, once told me that when he was my age the only way to wind up in prison in the USSA (back when it had only one S) was to steal something, kill somebody, or use illegal drugs.

So this is – at least partly – a YA version of Twenty-Thirty. Sadly the world building drops off for a hurried teen version of Prison Break mixed with a sport (football) story.

Main character Bo (short for Bono), is the odd one out. In a super safe, barely criminal, society, he’s the one with half of the family in jail and a grandfather that keeps bringing up illegal things. Bo has an anger problem and that puts him into trouble: an one way trip a correctional facility.

Life there is brutal and monotonous, but of course he manages to become part of an elite team pretty soon. And this team does illegal things: play something called football, without any protection. This looks like the right place for some Life Lessons, but Pete Hautman seems to be to enthralled by explaining several football maneuvers.

The second half and ending seems to be a bit rushed, which really breaks the initial fun down. Not bad, not very good either.

Rash, Pete Hautman, Simon & Schuster 2006

two way street

I’m a traitor to my generation.

The feminist side of me cringed several times about the clichés on how men and women should act, the little super romantic teen inside me could only squeal with pleasure with every high school dream that came true. two way street is not up there with other recent YA I read, but definitely entertaining enough for a quick summer read.

Courtney is going on a road trip to her college. With her ex-boyfriend. Of course when all this was planned he wasn’t an ex, there was no MySpace girl he broke up with her for and she thought she had a happy life. Now it’s hurt feelings, trying hard not to show those feelings and all the annoying quirks you can only like in a loved one. Locked up in a car.

Of course things aren’t completely what they seem and is the ex-boyfriend not the bad guy. The ending is a bit abrupt, but the fuzzy feelings will probably linger.

two way street, Lauren Barnholdt, Simon Pulse 2007

Telegraph Avenue

A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike.

What an incredible load of ‘manpain’, good gracious. I know that a (main) character doesn’t necessarily has to be likable, but the amount of self-pity combined with a very flowery prose (not a comparison-possibility missed) makes Telegraph Avenue (an American High Fidelity) tough to work through.

The main characters come in pairs: old friends and music store owners Nat and Archy, old friends, wives of the music store owners and colleague-mid wives Gwen and Aviva and Titus and Julius. The second is Aviva and Nat’s son, the first is Archy’s son, returning to him after fourteen years of no relationship. Gwen doesn’t know about him and is carrying their first child together. Besides that there’s a big competitor threatening the music store, something happens during a delivery and Archy’s no good father returns to just add to the mess.

It’s not like there’s nothing happening, nor that the things happening are badly written. It’s just that all of the adults, with more weight on Archy’s side and less on Gwen’s, are so incredibly full of self pity and anger and a paralyzing lack of motivation that it pulls you down in a dark hole of frustration. Where is that machine that you can use to kick fictional character ass into gear?

Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon, Harper 2012

what happened to goodbye

The table was sticky, there was a cloudy smudge on my water glass, and we’d been seated for ten minutes with no sign of a waitress.

From time to time a bit obvious, but so very sweet. I’m repeating myself, but this is just more proof about how there are good children/teenagers books around. This time it’s about new beginnings, identity and whatever happens when parents divorce.

Mclean follows her father around the country for his job, fixing badly functioning restaurants. In every new location, she invents a new identity. Drama queen, student council girl, loner. Her father fixes the restaurant, she makes sure that they can have an easy, domestic life.

Of course this time, things go differently. She forgets to give herself a new identity, the friends might be real friends and the high-strung relationship with her mother finally comes to an explosion. It’s giving, living and learning as an adolescent. A nice look into the teenage mind.

what happened to goodbye, Sarah Dessen, Viking 2011

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away

Father was a loud man.

Nigerian city family moves to their family in a rural town. The culture shock, proximity to oil companies, lack of money and ever-present violence chance every family member.

I like to read novels set in Africa, how they show the different picture mainstream (Western) media neglects to use, how the people there just want the same things from life as the people here. Sometimes that comes with uncomfortable truths. Timi and her children can’t stay in the city because her employer only wants married women as employees and Timi’s husband left her. White foreigners are prospering from Nigerian oil and the corruption around it while their factories pollute the environment and create a violent atmosphere in small towns. Wives have no say in the decision of their husbands, boys are allowed an education while girls should do ‘female’ things.

The reader looks through the eyes of daughter Blessing, a twelve-year-old who is torn between loyalty to her direct family and the adventures of the unknown, provided by her wise grandmother.

It’s a colorful, easy-to-read story that packs several punches.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, Christie Watson, Other Press 2011

Oh Dear Silvia

He sits with a sense of being watched, although he himself is the watcher.

I should have known better than to pick the book with the comedy genre sticker on it. Just like trying to find a fantasy book that isn’t part of a series, I continue to look for a book that deserves its comedy genre sticker.

It’s not that oh Dear Silvia is completely without laughs. It’s just all of them stem from awkward and cringe-worthy situations. Silvia is in a coma after a fall from her balcony. Every chapter is for someone from her life, visiting her in the hospital, showing a different side to the patient. Is she a selfish mother, a life-saver, a role model, a loveless monster or all of them combined? Or none of the above?

All the anger directed at Silvia seems definitely deserved, until the plot shows its backside and you remember that there’s always more to the eye than one can see. It’s not funny, but it’s reality. And with or without Silvia, the people around her will continue to build their own version of it.

oh Dear Silvia, Dawn French, Joseph 2012

The Elephant Keeper’s Children

I have found a door out of the prison.

Darn, a lot of things happen here. It’s a bit exhausting, really. There were times when I just didn’t want to open this book because you have to work hard to follow every plot line.

The one big plot line is about how three Danish siblings, living on an island, have to go through the disappearance of their parents. For the second time. But this time the police is on them right away, several religious leaders show an interest, the authorities try to split the siblings up and because the youngest two are absolute geniuses, they right away know that something’s wrong. Adventures follow.

Two things that I didn’t like about this story: the two youngest characters being absolute geniuses. They have very accurate insights, always have ideas to get out of tight spots, fool every adult and are just in time to save the day several times. Second is that this insight means that with every action, protagonist Peter falls back on an anecdote, a “feeling”, something “deep”. It makes the story incredibly cluttered.

And yet all those details, side plot lines and rubble create a smorgasbord that might not be that accessible, but certainly are entertaining. It’s a decision the reader has to make: work a bit harder to understand or leave this whirlwind of information, detail and silliness on the road’s side.

The Elephant Keeper’s Children, Peter Høeg, Harvill Secker 2012