Jill Grinberg Literary Management
için bu hafta gerçekten çok önemli gelişmeler oldu. Ajansın 3 kitabına bu haftaki New York Times Sunday Book Review'da yorumlar yapıldı. BunlarScott Westerfeld'
'ü (Türkçe yayın hakları satıldı),Fiona Wood'
(hakları müsait) veAlaya Dawn Johnson
'un LOVE IS THE DRUG
SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW | CHILDREN'S BOOKS
‘Wildlife’ and ‘Even in Paradise’
Fiona Wood’s enchanting “Wildlife” has two narrators: Sibylla, former wallflower and newly minted billboard model, and Lou, a loner bereft after the death of her boyfriend. When their 10th-grade class is thrust into the Australian equivalent of an Outward Bound program, neither realizes that her new survival skills will extend way beyond campfire-building and reptile identification. Bad friends, it turns out, are more treacherous than snakes.
“Our menstrual cycles are slowly converging,” a dismayed Sibylla observes of her cabin mates. And sure enough, hormones run amok as the campers come to terms with attraction, rejection, jealousy, blisters and “desire that builds and builds and has nowhere to go.” In ever-decent Sibylla’s struggle with her new image, Wood perfectly captures teenage self-doubt. This and her unsentimental rendering of the glorious, messy rush of first love elevate “Wildlife” far beyond standard kids-at-camp fare. The wilderness is exquisitely described, and when it comes to what’s on everyone’s mind, Wood is frank but never crude, and often hilarious, as when Sibylla recalls her mom’s long-ago sex-ed talk: “Oral sex is sex, kids (featuring 10 easily transmissible diseases), and not just a pants-zone kissing activity.”
Wood tackles big themes head-on: identity, friendship, justice, love, death. Her characters are all compelling and believable, but it is Lou who will stay with you, guarding her pain while sitting through compulsory grief-counseling sessions.
“The Buchanans’ pull was as natural and strong as the moon on the tides, and when I was with them I was happy in the warmth of their reflected light.” So, in the graceful prologue of Chelsey Philpot’s “Even in Paradise,” reminisces Charlotte, a scholarship student at the elite St. Anne’s boarding school, whose chance encounter with the rich and messed-up Julia Buchanan draws her into a glamorous family’s orbit.
The doomed patrician dynasty is an irresistible theme, and not surprisingly, this one is hiding a secret. Unfortunately, Philpot’s characters struggle to come to life. Lacking supporting evidence, we have to take it on faith that Julia is captivating, not spoiled and obnoxious, and that Charlotte’s charisma is potent enough to win over not only Julia but her gorgeous brother Sebastian — a Harvard student who with his brown curls and “mahogany dark” eyes is bound to evoke the specter of John Kennedy Jr. — as well as their father, a state senator. The story is often weighed down by clunky similes (“Turning the doorknob made my heart clatter like a box of nails dropping onto the floor of my dad’s garage”), clichés (“I would have promised her the moon, if it had been mine to give”) and stilted French phrases (confession: It’s my first language).
Meanwhile, the hormonal buzz is perplexingly absent at St. Anne’s. Julia is a lesbian but, except for one not terribly convincing kiss, does nothing about it, and Charlotte’s romance with Sebastian, though condoms are purchased and used, feels oddly discarnate. As for the mystery, most readers will figure it out early on. This is a shame, because Philpot can clearly write. Here’s hoping her next effort makes better use of her talents.
By Fiona Wood
385 pp. Poppy/Little, Brown & Company. $18. (Young adult; ages 14 and up)
EVEN IN PARADISE
By Chelsey Philpot
360 pp. Harper. $17.99. (Young adult; ages 14 and up)
Megan McAndrew is the author of the novel “Dreaming in French.”
‘The Doubt Factory’ and ‘Love Is the Drug’
To be a teenager is to be acutely aware of power, in all its forms — by virtue of having so frustratingly little of it. Which means adolescent protagonists impose a limiting factor on political fiction. Young adult authors looking to vent their political spleen commonly circumvent this with one of two routes: They embrace George Eliot’s reminder that “there is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life,” filtering political exigencies through the lens of personal experience and mapping out the Machiavellian power plays of home and high school. Or they turn to science fiction and fantasy and play politics to their heart’s content: There’s no believability ceiling to how teenagers in futuristic societies can change their worlds.
Paolo Bacigalupi and Alaya Dawn Johnson are attempting a third path in their latest books, thrillers that don’t just marry the personal to the political, but exploit the fantastical conventions of genre to make a head-on critique of the contemporary political landscape. (This isn’t virgin territory, of course — from “The Manchurian Candidate” to “Six Days of the Condor” to Cory Doctorow’s recent Y.A. writing, the thriller has proved itself a robust vehicle for political commentary.) Both authors are following up award-winning Y.A. dystopian novels — Bacigalupi’s “Ship Breaker” and Johnson’s “The Summer Prince” — that were not only astonishments of linguistic ingenuity and innovative world-building, but also impassioned attacks on the politics of poverty and oppression. Now they’re staking out similar thematic territory in a world we recognize as our own. Bacigalupi’s “The Doubt Factory” introduces us to a privileged prep schooler, Alix Banks, who discovers that her father’s shady business dealings might be indirectly responsible for thousands of deaths. Alix’s reluctant investigation draws her down a rabbit hole of corporate conspiracy and pits principle against family, while offering everything you could ask from an airport thriller: death-defying chases, gun-toting mercenaries, idealistic techno-hackers. Unfortunately, Bacigalupi has also embraced the airport thriller’s fondness for melodrama and cliché; this is not subversion of trope, but surrender to it, the indelible characters of “Ship Breaker” giving way here to flat heroes and cardboard villains. Then there is the disquieting love story: A dreamy teen radical named Moses stalks Alix, kidnaps her, locks her in a cage, then dazzles her with his ideological purity. This all serves as foreplay.
To his credit, Bacigalupi uses these conventions of genre to attack a thoroughly unconventional brand of evil: the public relations experts and scientists-for-sale who conspire to replace certainty with manufactured doubt. Alix’s father’s firm is nicknamed the Doubt Factory: “The place where big companies go when they need the truth confused. . . . The place companies go when they need science to say what’s profitable, instead of what’s true.” Tobacco industry lobbying, pharmaceutical companies’ manipulation of the F.D.A. — Bacigalupi doesn’t shy from indicting real-world doubt merchants by name and deed. (Alix’s Seitz Academy can only be an allusion to Frederick Seitz, a physicist who was often accused of shilling for the pro-tobacco and global-warming-denial lobbies.)
As Moses and Alix charge through their adventure, ideological guns blazing, the most startling twist is an ultimate vindication of what amounts to a kind of zealotry. “What if it wasn’t about sides, or perspectives, or radicals,” Alix wonders. “What if it was just about truth?”
In our proudly post-postmodern world of antiheroes and shades of gray, the value of nuance, in fiction and beyond, is almost axiomatic. To see the world in black and white is to see it through a child’s eyes. Bacigalupi is challenging this conflation of simplicity with naïveté, which makes for a somewhat flat narrative, but a stirring cri de coeur. Compromise, complication, doubt: These are his enemies. Maybe there’s nothing childish about moral clarity; maybe to understand that some stories have only one defensible side is what it means to grow up.
Johnson’s “Love Is the Drug” also features a wealthy overachiever struggling against the consequences of her parents’ professional sins with the help of a roguishly iconoclastic love interest. Set almost in the present — not quite today, but believably tomorrow — “Love Is the Drug” opens with Emily Bird, a Washington, D.C., high school senior, waking up in the hospital, unsure how she got there. She’s been unconscious for eight days, in which time bioterrorists have unleashed a global pandemic and her city’s been placed under protective quarantine. Abandoned by her parents, harassed by a soulless government contractor and betrayed by her shallow boyfriend, Bird can trust only her friend Coffee, a noble drug dealer simmering with distrust for the Man.
This action-packed narrative is beautifully complicated by Bird’s persistent identity crisis, through which the personal and the political collide. As a black girl growing up in Washington, Bird is keenly aware of the city’s racial and socio-economic inequities, systemic injustices thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic crisis. She finds herself torn between the city’s Northwest and Northeast; between her high-powered mother’s merciless expectations and her deadbeat uncle’s unconditional love; between obedience and outrage, self-interest and justice, prudence and principle. She walks an impossible tightrope, “the girl who loves her uncle but will never ever let herself be like him.” Johnson captures wondrously complex dynamics in the simplest of interactions: “Once she asked if she could get her hair braided like Charlotte,” and her mother “just frowned and said, ‘Charlotte’s more Howard than Harvard. Don’t make it easy for them to dismiss you.’ ”
At times, the epidemic and its consequences — quarantine, martial law, desperation, death — verge on distraction from the quietly brutal story of family and identity. Where the novel’s ostensible villain is a man Johnson describes as “an actual nightmare, a specter come out of the deep dream to walk the earth,” Bird’s true antagonist is her mother, whose maternal ministrations are both horrifying and heartbreaking. In a book stuffed with terrorist explosions, violent rioting, biological attacks, kidnapping and torture, the bleakest, most terrifying scene may be one of domestic warfare, a face-off between mother and daughter. “Hell is loving your parents,” Bird warns us, and the stories of her childhood, where cruelty masquerades as love and vice versa, uphold it as sorry truth.
Gradually, the personal and the political dovetail into a powerful call to action. Bird’s quest to regain her lost memories — memories that may prove key to unraveling the nefarious government conspiracy — is mirrored by her subconscious mind’s efforts to force long-buried resentments and desires to the surface. Through much of the book, she suffers from insomnia, a compelling metaphor for a journey that ends with her waking to the truth — of her world and herself.
This, in the end, is the message both authors have for their readers: Wake up. Ask questions. Challenge authority. Form your own opinions. Fight injustice, no matter the cost. These days, suggesting that a book has an overt message is almost an insult, as if purpose is incommensurable with art. Maybe so: these are not perfect novels. But they’re bold and ambitious, unafraid to charge into territory too often avoided, their authors keenly aware: Some messages are too important not to deliver.
THE DOUBT FACTORY
By Paolo Bacigalupi
484 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $18. (Young adult; ages 14 and up)
LOVE IS THE DRUG
By Alaya Dawn Johnson
335 pp. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $17.99. (Young adult; ages 14 and up)
Robin Wasserman is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Waking Dark.”
SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW | CHILDREN'S BOOKS
‘Afterworlds,’ by Scott Westerfeld
Scott Westerfeld’s semi-supernatural novel “Afterworlds” beckons us into a universe where dutiful drones, pale from sun deprivation, spend long, lonely days toiling at an irksome task in order to prove their worth. The challenges they face are many, and their chances of survival, let alone success, are low. Though these worker bees occasionally bond with others of their ilk, they’re really on their own, forever outrunning the authority figures who regularly swoop down to assess their accomplishments and mete out punishment accordingly. The stakes are high: If the denizens of this universe fail, they’ll be dropped into the black hole of obscurity where, unless they can claw their way out, they’ll languish forever.
They may also be forced to give back their advance money.
With “Afterworlds,” Westerfeld — perhaps best known as the author of the Uglies series — has fashioned a narrative from two fantastical stories, cleverly entwined: The heroine of one is Lizzie, a high schooler who survives an airport terrorist attack by willing herself into a misty grayish place known as the afterworld. There she meets the Hindu god of death, Yamaraj, who, in this particular invented mythology, is a charismatic swain in a rippling silk shirt. The star of the novel’s other story is Darcy Patel, a precocious 18-year-old who, against all odds, has written — and sold! — a young adult novel of her own, called “Afterworlds.” Lizzie is, in fiction writers’ parlance, Darcy’s “protag.” But Darcy is the protag of her own story, one in which she defers college and leaves her home in Philadelphia to move to New York. There, she’ll revise her book for publication and get cracking on a sequel. And she’ll fall in love for the first time, with fellow Y.A. novelist Imogen. The two settle into Darcy’s airy (and way too expensive) Chinatown apartment, working on rewrites by day, sampling the city’s magical selection of noodle shops by night.
“Afterworlds” is essentially two fantasy novels in one, even though one takes place in the very real world of New York publishing. Westerfeld is skillful at box-of-mirrors construction techniques. As he details Darcy’s struggle to write “Afterworlds,” the finished book takes shape before our eyes in alternating chapters. But before long, a problem seeps through the cracks of that structure: The otherworldly story Darcy has invented for Lizzie isn’t nearly as compelling as Darcy’s real-world one, and it accounts for half the book. Lizzie’s love affair with Yamaraj is satisfying enough, and the descriptions of the couple’s supernaturally “shiny” skin is as lovely a metaphor as any for the glow of young love. But other plot elements feel strained, like Lizzie’s friendship with an 11-year-old ghost named Mindy, and her zeal to punish the man who murdered the girl, who is clearly a child molester, though that’s never spelled out; he’s referred to as a “bad man.” It comes off as a jarring attempt at grisliness while maintaining a safe, PG-rated distance from it. Luckily, the Darcy chapters crack along dexterously. She’s an enormously appealing character: The daughter of Indian immigrants, she appreciates their protectiveness but is understandably thrilled to be striking out on her own. With her work ethic, her innocence and her smarts, she’s like a cross between Mary Richards of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City” (only with less casual sex).
In detailing Darcy’s day-to-day routine and her bouts of insecurity, Westerfeld offers a realistic glimpse — for my money, at least — into the world of writing for a living. Darcy sweats over looming deadlines. She worries that readers may be offended that she’s used a Hindu god “for purposes of Y.A. hotness.” She fears that her first book will tank — or that it will succeed and then she won’t be able to produce another. She gleans useful advice from colleagues, words of wisdom that older, real-life writers should heed. Imogen tells her she’s “got the juice” as a storyteller: “Beautiful sentences are fine, but the juice is what makes me turn pages.”
“Afterworlds” is a wonderful book for any young person with an interest in growing up to be a writer. Its tone is somewhere between “Writing is harder work than you think” and “Shoot for the stars!” And there’s a sly joke embedded in its dovetailing stories: The chances of getting a huge advance for a Y.A. novel are slim. Still, they’re much greater than the likelihood of meeting a sexy teenage death god after nearly being killed by terrorists.
By Scott Westerfeld
599 pp. Simon Pulse. $19.99. (Young adult; ages 14 and up)
Stephanie Zacharek is chief film critic at The Village Voice.