The Rest of Us Just Live Here
HarperTeen, October 2015
Surviving high school is a challenge even when you’re normal and as well adjusted as a teen can be, but what happens when you feel like you’re the least important in your circle of friends? What about when your mom is an elected official running for national office, your dad is an alcoholic afterthought and you have poorly controlled OCD? Dealing with all that might be overwhelming, you think, but what if the situation was a lot crazier and scarier than even that? Suppose your town and your school are ground zero for a cosmic battle, a repeat of one that wiped out the high school less than ten years ago? Now imagine that your best friend has powers beyond anything you could explain to a stranger and is worshiped by mountain lions. Add in the possibility that the ‘indie’ kids at school are supposed to save mankind and you have quite the situation.
This is what high school senior Mickey faces. He’s in serious like with biracial friend Henna, scared that his sister Mel, who almost died (she did briefly, but was brought back to life) from an eating disorder, will relapse and he’s distressed by the flare-up of his OCD. At the same time, he’s convinced that everyone tolerates him because, as he puts it, “I’m the least.”
As the craziness surrounding the possibility that zombies, ghosts and creatures affected by the ubiquitous blue lights may be about to defeat the ‘indie’ kids, teen readers will find the challenges Mickey, his sister Mel, Henna and best friend Jared are dealing with as graduation approaches are ones they can easily relate to. And the second layer of supernatural happenings is a nice counterpart to the sort of angst each of the main characters face as they begin to realize just how much life will change soon, no matter what else happens. This is a fun, quirky and emotional story about growing up and the insanity that accompanies that experience.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.
A Little in Love
Eponine’s Story from Les Misérables
Chicken House, September 2015
How do you think your life might turn out if you were born in a field, your father gambled away every cent and as a result, you were raised to hate and steal? Meet Eponine, one of the characters in Les Misérables. This is her story from the time she’s born to the day she’s lying in her own blood at age seventeen after a final selfless act. You know how the story ends because it’s in the first sentence in the book, an entry from June 5th, 1832.
When the book begins, Eponine is looking back to what her mother told her about when she was born. Her father was away at the battle of Waterloo, but spent more time robbing his fellow soldiers as they were dying than fighting. She describes him thusly: “His eyes were quick like a rat’s—quick and cunning and black”. He came home rich and bought an inn that was in terrible shape. He lied about the inn, about the war and pretty much everything.
No matter how successful the inn was, he found a way to make money, food and clothing disappear, so when Eponine and her younger sister Azelma became old enough, they were trained to steal from drunken patrons and then from the townspeople.
When she’s four, a woman appears at the inn with her daughter Cosette and offers to pay for the family to care for her because the mom can’t work and take care of Cosette at the same time. Instead, the girl is treated like a slave, starved, verbally and physically abused, as well as forced to do the most demeaning chores, sometimes multiple times. While Eponine feels uncomfortable treating the new girl abusively, she has little choice.
Eight years later, a man appears and ransoms Colette for 1500 francs, informing the family that her mother had died and asked him to find and care for her daughter. Of course, Eponine’s father gambles the money away and in desperation to keep the inn, commits a terrible crime. The family, which now includes a younger brother aged six and unwanted by the parents, flees for Paris under cover of darkness. The journey is arduous and leaves everyone hardened and on the edge of starvation. When her little brother is abandoned as the family boards a barely functional rowboat, Eponine’s heart shrinks painfully.
It’s this event that starts her looking inward and wondering whether there might be a better way to live than one of constant theft and cruelty. In Paris, the family live with a gang of thieves until they steal enough to get their own place. Eponine meets Marius, a young man who rents the room next to theirs. It is this meeting that really turns her heart around and even though she doesn’t stop doing bad things right away, she is able to figure out what she needs to do to have a sense of worth and purpose. How she gets to that point is sad, but understandable.
I have not read Les Misérables nor have I seen the movie. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this book and I doubt it will diminish the level of satisfaction when teens, particularly those who like stories of tough times or historical tales, read the book.
Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.