This month, I’m introducing you to two teen/YA books that have mystery elements to them. I think it’s fair to say that most books today that could qualify as mysteries for these age groups have some element of supernatural or magic in them as well. These are there because the target audience expects, even demands them. If you look at the best-selling books for teens, the top grossing movies for teens and the most popular TV shows for teens, I think you’ll realize why the literary market is driven by fantasy/supernatural plot elements. Having said that, I think there’s plenty of room in books written for readers between age 10 and 18 for mystery elements to have a prominent place.
I discovered Texas Gothic (9780385736930, Delacorte Press, 2011) by Rosemary Clement-Moore quite by accident. I was waiting to judge the first round of the Teen Story Slam at the Edythe Dyer Library in Hampden and started browsing the display of new books for teens. By the time I was done, I had scribbled a list of ten or so ISBNs of ones I wanted to add to our collection at the Hartland Public Library. The description for this one shot it to the top of my to read when it arrives pile.
Amy( short for Amaryllis) Goodnight comes from a family that would rival the Weasley clan for the number of magic users. She, however, is the normal one who tries to keep the rest of the crew safe from the real world and does PR and damage control when things get out of hand. Amy doesn’t think she has any particular powers and simply wants to stay sane, finish high school and go to college.
When she and her older sister Phin agree to look after their aunt Hyacinth’s Texas herb farm for the summer while she is on vacation, little do they know that they are about to get embroiled in a ghost hunt compounded by romance, criminal activity and lots of Texas history.
This was one of the better YA books I’ve read in 2011. The characters are really likable, the story line kept me engaged and curious and the romantic tension between Amy and Ben is among the best I’ve seen in a book for quite some time. What particularly impressed me was that Rosemary Clement-Moore wrote it when she was much younger and decided it was good enough to pull out and polish. Readers are all the richer for her having done so. Patrons who have read it since we got a copy agree with my assessments.
The second book , Bigger Than a Bread Box (9780375869167, Random House, 2011) by Laurel Snyder is aimed at younger teens and ‘tweens. Rebecca, age twelve, is as content with life as she can be, given the tension between her parents over her dad’s lack of a job. Once a teacher who became a cab driver before wrecking his taxi, her dad seems like he’s drifting and not particularly in touch with his family or much of anything. When things reach crisis level, Rebecca’s mom, packs the kids in her car and drives to Atlanta where she plans to get a job, live with her mother and ‘sort everything out.’
Rebecca feels like a fish out of water, having lost her best friend, her dad and the school she felt comfortable in. She develops some pretty strong anger toward her mother as she feels like no one is in her corner any more. While exploring her grandmother’s attic, Rebecca finds a bunch of old beat up bread boxes, but one is still clean and shiny. She takes it back to her room and on a whim, while feeling extremely sad and lonely, wishes for everything to be like it used to be. As her lament grows, she wishes aloud for other things like everyone to be together again, that they could all be on holiday at the beach and so forth. Her last wish, “I wish there were gulls,” has a very amazing result. She hears cries and rustling coming from the breadbox. When she opens it, a very indignant seagull storms out and flies through her window.
This begins a series of wishes for things that will fit in the breadbox; a diamond, fancy pastries she and her little brother love, a cell phone, an antique spoon her mom has wanted for years, money, etc. Each fulfilled wish has a direct impact on Rebecca and indirect ones on everyone around her. The consequences arising from her wishes and the way they change her behavior are at the heart of the rest of the story.
I read this as a reviewer for the Maine State Library’s Five-for-five program. Initially, I expected more mystery and magic, but by the time I finished it, I realized Laurel Snyder added just enough of each to a story that was more about family and feelings. This is going to be a book I suggest to 10-13 year olds who have family issues or come from homes where divorce has already happened. There are several things I like about the book. 1: I like the way Rebecca’s stream of consciousness worked with external plot elements. 2-I really like her little brother Lew and his interactions with Rebecca. 3-I like the way Rebecca’s realization about the way the magic breadbox worked unfolded. 4-I especially like the way the book ended. It wasn’t a cheesy feel-good wrap-up, but a ‘things are far-from-OK, but I got hope, ending’ and that’s a lot more like life is for the Rebeccas of the world.