It feels like I've done a lot of book reviews here lately. It's not because I've been writing less and reading more (although that is probably the case), but mostly because I've read some good books lately and I wanted to tell someone about them.
The two books today, though, were actually the first books written by someone I "knew" (online) who asked me to read them for the blog. They are MG/YA books, and hoping they'd be just about the right age for my daughter, I eagerly agreed.
It was about half-way through the first one that I realize I may have gotten myself in over my head. Not that the books weren't good, or I couldn't finish them, but I realized how little MG/YA I read anymore - even with a 9 year old and 11 year old in the house - and how badly qualified I am to evaluate them.
So if I totally screw this up, miss the point, or otherwise show my adult-ness (and by that I mean, un-coolness), I hope you won't take it out on the books!
The books are two of a proposed eight book series called Scenarios for Girls, written by author Nicole O'Dell. They are a modified version of a pick you own adventure story, except in these books, the main characters face very difficult moral dilemmas and then you get to choose which choice she will make and read that ending.
Can I say how cool that idea is? As soon as I heard it, I was jumping all over these books. With a daughter on the cusp of tweendom, I thought what a great idea it is to have a place for her to experience real life-like decisions and see possible outcomes through the eyes of someone her age.
So here are the books, and their descriptions:
Lindsay Martin and her three best friends are embarking on their eight grade year. As the year takes off, they quickly institute a tradition of weekly sleep-over parties. Popcorn popping, game playing, and movie watching are standard events...at least until the parents are in bed. Then they play Truth or Dare. It starts off innocently and builds in excitement and danger over the weeks, until they face big trouble that requires one girl to decide between right and wrong in a huge way. Whatever she decides, nothing will ever be the same.
All that Glitters is about how young girls grow up too fast. Hair, makeup, clothes and boys have such appeal that the things that really matter pale in comparison. Drew and Danielle (Dani) Daniels are ninth grade, identical-twin girls from a Christian family, whose parents try to shelter them from the troubles and concerns of the world. They, especially Drew, rebel in small ways throughout the book, until it becomes too much for Dani. Their relationship suffers when Drew is faced with a choice of ultimate rebellion. And, their relationship isn't the only thing at stake.
First of all, both books address issues I think most teens face. I remember slumber parties and truth or dare; I remember the peer pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way, join a certain activity. Even Christian teens are faced with these pressures. And both Lindsay and Drew are easy to relate to because they face these problems with difficulty, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and yet tempted by the power of them. They felt very real in their mistakes.
I loved the idea of getting to read two endings, too. I always wonder when I read about what would have happened if someone had done something differently, and here the author has given me that ending. Getting to see how the girls' choices turn out was really fun, but also thought-provoking. My only problem with them was that the secondary characters were not consistent in the endings. For example, in All that Glitters, Drew's boyfriend ends up to be a scoundrel and morally corrupt guy when she chooses the bad decision, but when she chooses the right decision, he just ends up being a kid who made a bad choice as well, and is sorry about it: an overall good guy. Who he is in his heart should be the same, no matter which decision she chooses.
The voice was also a bit inconsistent. I had a hard time knowing if the story was being filtered through the eyes of the main character, or through an adult narrator. Sometimes the language was spot-on teen, but often it was much more mature than a teen. I'm not sure if this is something a teen reader would notice, but it stood out to me.
Mrs. O'Dell did a great job of capturing the energy and emotional roller-coaster of being a teen. Some people will no doubt find the sections in church and youth group too preachy, but I actually liked those the best. I remember reading many books like this as a teen, and loving the identification with another Christian kid with my own struggles as well as beliefs. Now there are very few books in print for youth of faith, and I'm sure there will be many kids who find a welcome identification in these books.
Since they do contain some "preaching," though, I recommend parents read the books as well and discuss them with their girls. There may be places where you strongly agree or disagree with what is said about the morals in these books, or how the parents chose to react to the girls, or what the preacher or youth leaders say, and as such these books are a great avenue to discussion.
I know this series will continue to develop and get stronger the longer Mrs. O'Dell writes them, and I look forward to seeing what new and complicated issues she deals with next, and what spunky and creative characters she throws in the middle of them!