Recently I read a terrible YA novel that I won’t mention by title but it made me very upset that impressionable youth would read it and think that behaving like the cowardly, unambitious, weak-minded protagonist is okay. It is not okay. We need strong protagonists, or at least anti-heroes who challenge us. I love character-driven novels. I personally want my hero/heroine to evolve as a person and I want to evolve along with them. Usually after reading a terrible book I reach for something I trust, either a re-read or a comforting author I know. This time I reached for Sherman Alexie and was not left disappointed. Flight is about an American Indian teenager, known as Zits, who spent his life shifting between foster homes, having to deal with the death and absence of his mother, a life of instability, as well as a history of sexual abuse. After meeting another teenager slightly older and in a similar situation, Zits runs away from his foster home to be with him. Through this new friend, Zits is taught hate and violence, under the pretence that this will bring him closer to his American Indian roots. Upon this friend’s bidding, Zits is persuaded to perform a terrific act of violence, which seemingly results in his demise. But that’s just the beginning. Somehow Zits is transported into another life, but only for a short period; just enough to get a glimpse. This happens a few times and Zits experiences a variety of human perspectives, as he travels back and forth through history. I enjoy reading short story collections and the way this novel flows is much like a compilation of short stories. Alexie has a special way of capturing human tragedy that’s comfortable, witty, and thought-provoking.
For similarly awesome works, Emma Donoghue’s Touchy Subjects is a great collection of short stories. Donoghue is a master of compiling stories around a similar theme; Touchy subjects is no exception, and like Alexie, Subjects deals with identity and reassessing social assumptions.
Also great, Michael Chabon writes of a young US immigrant fleeing Hitler-occupied Prague to live with his cousin in NYC in this witty, engaging, sometimes magical novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Or laugh along as Marjane Satrapi gives us a candid look into the sex lives of some Iranian women in her graphic novel Embroideries.