Teen Angst – No Longer Just for Kids!

Here at Everett Public Library we have an ever-growing Young Adult section which caters primarily to teenagers. This relatively new category in the book world did not exist when I was a stripling, back in those times when it snowed every day and the trolley cars had cured hams for wheels.

One of the functions of young adult literature is to explore the feelings of alienation that teens typically experience. When I trod the boards of this age group I read science fiction almost exclusively, and I think that in a way this genre catered to the estranged youth of my generation. Sci-fi books frequently featured characters who felt alone and unloved or had no family or had a seemingly impossible quest to fulfill. The protagonists were frequently underdogs.

As I matured chronologically, sci-fi began to lose its appeal and other genres became the mainstay of my reading. Which is not to say that as an early-middle-aged-elderly-young-person I don’t still feel isolated, awkward and uncapable. I just read different books.

But now I regress, and once again I’m reading a lot of young adult literature. Perhaps because it’s a new-ish genre (which maybe isn’t even the right word), there is a freshness and frisson of creativity in the best young adult books (of course there’s also a ton of dreck) which I often find missing in adult literature. I’m definitely not choosing these tomes to embrace the main character’s sense of aloneness, I simply enjoy the books.

Two titles that I’ve recently come across, which initially don’t seem closely related, have struck me as variations on a theme: Every Day by David Levithan and Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff.

Every dayIn Every Day, the main character is, well, really hard to describe. Each morning, A (the name he/she has taken) wakes up in a different 16-year-old’s body. Male, female, straight, gay, injured, terminally ill, an accomplished athlete. A, who I guess I’d have to think of as a bodiless soul, is the same regardless of whose body he (gotta go with “he” to simplify the pronoun situation here) inhabits, but he also has access to that person’s memories. A simply tries to make it through each day without messing up that person’s life. It’s not possible to create relationships because the next day he will be in a different body in a different place. This might sound bizarre and annoying, but it’s just normal life for A. Until the day he meets Rhiannon and begins to fall in love with her. Going against everything he’s always stood for, A tries to build a relationship with Rhiannon while moving from body to body.

Boy NobodyBoy Nobody introduces a 16-year-old who suffers from a different kind of alienation. At age 12 the unnamed protagonist is kidnapped by the organization that killed his parents. They train him to be the perfect assassin, and when his education is complete he goes to work for them. For each job he assumes a new identity, infiltrates a new group of “friends”. The lifestyle of a killer does not allow meaningful relationships to develop. Eventually, much like A in Every Day, Boy Nobody falls in love with the daughter of one of his targets. He is torn between being faithful to the organization and completing his mission, or running off with this girl and starting a new life.

Although these two books are very different, they both feature solitary people who are forced into isolated existences, people who seek out forbidden relationships even while knowing that they’re certain to be doomed. This is a pretty strong statement about basic human needs and the resiliency of the human spirit in impossible circumstances. It’s ultimately a hopeful message, which is always appreciated by insecure, angst-ridden peoples of all ages.

Ron

Every Day

There are too many days that I wake up and wish I wasn’t me. There are too many days that I wish I could be someone else. It would be nice to bounce around in new skin for a while, just for a respite from being myself. But I know I’d still be me.

That’s the problem.

The main character in Every Day by David Levithan understands.

“A” wakes up in a different body every day. He doesn’t know where he’ll wake up or whose body he’ll be using. One morning he might wake up as a 250 pound football jock. The next morning as a Goth girl. He’s always 16 and he always tries to be asleep when he slips into another body. If he’s awake he feels like he’s literally being ripped out of his skin. One day he might wake four hours from where he was the day before. Sometimes it’s only 45 minutes away. He doesn’t know why certain things are the way they are. Sounds a little confusing, huh? It’s not at all. That’s just my writing.

But one morning he wakes up as a dirt bag who treats his girlfriend Rhiannon like the white stuff on bird poop. “A” doesn’t get attached to anyone because there’s no point in making friends or falling in love when you wake up every morning in a different body. Kinda hard to make plans to go to the movies when you don’t know where or who you’ll be.

“A” sees dirt bag’s girlfriend and starts to feel something he doesn’t want to:

But there’s something about her-the cities on her shoes, the flash of bravery, the unnecessary sadness-that makes me want to know what the word will be when it stops being a sound.

They ditch school to go to the beach. Rhiannon senses that this isn’t her boyfriend saying nice things to her, holding her hand, listening, really listening, to her when she’s talking. They part ways. “A” knows he’s probably never going to see her again so he writes down their day together. He’s slipped into so many bodies that his memories get blurry.

The good thing is he can access certain memories and facts from each body. He made the mistake of eating McDonald’s while in a vegetarian’s body without checking first. That poor girl’s colon was probably never the same. He almost died when he was nine by eating a strawberry that the body he was occupying was allergic to.

“A” decides he’s going to keep his connection to Rhiannon. He spills his story to her. She finds it hard to believe except here’s the proof: each time he shows up to find her, no matter what body he’s in she knows it’s him. The intensity shooting between the two of them is hard to miss. I’d hate to get caught in those cross-hairs. Like a bug getting zapped in one of those zappy bug thingies.

One body “A” occupied believes  he was possessed by demons and that’s why he can’t remember anything from the day before. This opens a new can of “say what?” Other people start to come forward about their time loss. “A” might be found out. But can he find others who are like him? Maybe. Maybe he’s all alone. Maybe he’s the only soul who can travel body to body.

Don’t let this quick read fool you into thinking it’s fluff. It’s not. The writing is so lyrical it almost hurts. It shines so bright like the end of the day when the sun comes in a west facing window and blinds everything in its path. See? I’m kind of a writer. Every Day is one of those books I wish I had written.

Jennifer