Thursday, May 9, 2013

What we're reading: Realistic Fiction

Realistic fiction for high school students, reviewed by Melissa

I recently finished All You Never Wanted, by Adele Griffin, and...I'm not sure what to say. I found it gripping, I practically read it straight through in one sitting, and yet...well, it was a weird book, with a strange ending. So if you like getting inside the heads of interesting characters, if you like personal drama, if you maybe have a sibling who drives you crazy, or one who is more (or less) popular than would like this book. If you don't like reading about any of those things, maybe not.

The book is told from a dual perspective by two sisters, Alex and Thea. Alex is the older, the more popular, the one with the clique and the boyfriend, while Thea, up until shortly before the time period covered by the book, was the little sister who got good grades and never made trouble. They have always been close, and any kind of resentment between them has been way under the surface. But shortly before the events detailed in the book, a couple of major things changed: One of them was that their mother married a very rich man; up until this point in life, their mom and the two girls lived a very careful, bare bones kind of life, with part-time jobs and no prospect of a car, ever, but now anything goes. The downside is that their mom is always off with stepfather Arthur, leaving them to their own devices (not a good thing at this moment in time). The other change was to Alex: Suddenly, she wasn't eating (anything), she wasn't seeing her friends, she would hardly leave the house; and when she did, sometimes she had to call her boyfriend or Thea to come rescue her when she was overcome by agoraphobia. What we don't know is why.

The confluence of these two things--Alex retreating from her former throne of popularity, and the access to real money--have had a bad effect on Thea. In Alex's absence, she has begun to aspire to Alex's status, and in order to carve out a niche for herself in the tough social strata of their high school, she is engaging in some truly outrageous behavior, fueled by compulsive and creative lying. She also aspires to Alex's boyfriend, which never leads to a happy ending for anyone.

This book is kind of emotionally exhausting; you are rooting for Alex to get it together, but Thea is also weirdly endearing in the midst of her over-the-top acting out, and sometimes you don't know where to place your loyalty. And the ending...hmmm. Read the book and experience it for yourself!

I'm not a big fan of the cover--it didn't feel right to me, though it's not horrible. And it could have been a lot worse if the "chick lit" people had gotten their hands on it, since this is definitely not that!

Griffin has written a lot of other interesting (and eclectic in terms of genre!) fiction for teens, including Picture the Dead, and Amandine. Adele was one of the authors who wrote a letter to herself as a teenager for Dear Teen Me, and you can find it here. Sounds to me like she might have been the model for Thea, minus some of the drama!

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