John Clark reviewing two new young adult titles that reflect events in the real world very strikingly. The first, Someone I Used To Know by Patty Blount, continues her very moving and insightful books on touchy issues. Starting with Send in 2012, which dealt with a boy trying to rebuild his like after his bullying behavior went horribly wrong, she wrote TMI about the disastrous results of posting things online. Then came Some Boys about a girl trying to learn trust after not being believed when she accuses a star athlete at her school of rape. Nothing Left To Burn combines the difficulty of being loyal and wanting to belong with the harm an overbearing and unfeeling parent can inflict. The Way It Hurts came out last year and combined romance and the stress of trying to care for a handicapped sibling while building a musical career and the fallout when an online post is misinterpreted and goes viral.
Patty’s latest, Someone I Used to Know, took me longer to read than the others. That is far from a bad thing. It was because of how she alternated the story, not only between different time periods, but different family members, not to mention the detail she added to make the story seem so realistic. Two years ago, when she was a freshman, Ashley was raped under the bleachers at a football game by a senior. The assault was a direct result of a scavenger hunt that had become a tradition among football team members. Players got points for things like ‘sex with an ex’ and ‘sex with a virgin’. Following the assault, things got worse…much worse. Ashley’s older brother, Derek, was a participant in the scavenger hunt and when confronted by his parents, turned his guilt into blaming his sister by telling everyone she would have been fine if she’d just stayed home. In addition, his testimony at the trial contributed to the perpetrator being convicted of sexual assault instead of rape, the difference between two years and ten in prison.
Now, Ashley’s trying to rejoin life, but it’s a nearly impossible battle as she was seen as the reason for football being eliminated from the school sports offerings and now it’s being reinstated, creating yet another trigger. Her parents’ relationship took a major hit after the attack, her older brother acts strange and doesn’t know how to act around her, Derek escaped to a college some distance away and alternates between anger at his sister and self-loathing because he knows he totally messed things up. There’s also Sebastian, the only boy who refused to participate in the scavenger hunt. He’s about the only guy Ashley can tolerate coming near her, but letting him in remains scary.
The story goes back and forth from then to now, carefully uncovering more and more about the assault, the trial and how the family began disintegrating while letting readers follow Ashley’s struggle to regain her life. What’s even more interesting is how that same process unfolds with Derek while away at school. As he, with the help of his pretty awesome girlfriend, Brittany (who came from the same town and knows his history), begins working through guilt and denial, he begins to see a completely different picture. His realizations hurt like the devil, even leading to panic attacks when he finally understands the impact his behavior had on Ashley.
Following the gradual and very uneven rebuilding of their family isn’t easy to read, but is more realistic than in any other book on this topic I’ve read. I wish we could tie down every elected senator and representative in Washington while someone read this cover to cover.
The other book just came out last week. Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman, is dystopian reality coming soon to parts of your country. We’ve all followed the gradual water woes in the west, especially California. When Beth and I were in Vancouver two years ago, they had banned watering lawns and such in the city. Everything had a drought-like look. The wildfires in California seem to be getting worse every year. Cape Town, South Africa even created a potential Day Zero, when the city water supply would go dry.
This book imagines that Arizona and Nevada stop sharing the water from the Colorado River a couple years after the large farming areas in central California have turned into a dust bowl. Local, state and national governments have been paying lip service to the impending crisis for ages, but when Tap-Out, as the day the water stops flowing comes to be called, nobody, save a few survivalists, are equipped to deal with the way civilization crumbles.
Alyssa and her younger brother Garrett are at the center of this story. When their parents fail to return from trying to get water from the hastily set up portable desalinization units several miles away, they’re forced to deal on their own. Then their geeky neighbor Kelton, whose parents have been anticipating some sort of crisis for years, joins them, mostly because he’s had a crush on Alyssa for years. When his parents’ plans and supposedly impregnable house is overrun and something horrible happens during the invasion, the three teens flee, hoping to make it to the remote back up hideout Kelton’s parents built in a state forest.
Getting there requires navigating crazed crowds, martial law gone awry, not to mention the tension when they pick up two other mysterious teens. This is not only a fictional heads-up about where we could be heading, it’s one heck of a read.