Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Favorite "Problem Novel"

Some of my favorite problem books are also memoirs, like Tweak: The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon comes to mind immediately, and so does Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. But we said "novels," so...

Cut Book Cover.jpg

...I choose Cut by Patricia McCormick. It's about Callie, a teenage girl who is sent to a residential treatment facility for teens with problems ranging from drug addiction to eating disorders to Callie's problem: self-harm. It's a very short book, and to be entirely honest, I think the story gets a little rushed in the resolution, but it was voted one of ALA's "Best Books for Young Adults" in 2002 and I agree with that decision. If you read it and like it, I would highly recommend following it up with Ellen Hopkins' Impulse and Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford (in addition to the two memoirs I mentioned above).

Not too long ago, almost all problem novels were preachy and didactic and would beat you about the head with a lesson. Today, that is not nearly as much of an issue, because authors are being really straightforward with youth about real problems and talking about them in a way that builds a connection with kids and teens instead of talking down to them (which just pushes them away). I like that Cut belongs to that second category, and that it is honest.

I love problems novels, I do (which... sounds kind of terrible, but whatever.)  If they're well written, they're interesting and engaging things.  My ONE problem with them is that, nine times out of ten, things get better in the end and start to improve and everyone is happy (even Cut is like this, so don't let Alex fool you.  That doesn't mean they're bad books, or even unrealistic, it's just a pet peeve of mine.)  The only person I've seen step away from that is Hopkins.  BUT I'm sure there isn't much more I could tell you about her at this point, so I'll just move on to my favorite book.

We've seen Laura Halse Anderson on here before (she's the author of Speak.)  So really, we shouldn't be surprised that Wintergirls turned out so well.  I like it because, while it does have a more upbeat ending, Anderson touches on a less upbeat part of life.

Lia suffers from anorexia and her friend, Cassie, has already died from the disease.  She is constantly seeing Cassie's ghost, urging Lia to join her beyond the veil. 

I like how Anderson presents the disease to us.  Anorexia is about control, and Lia has none in her life.  So this is her way of controlling something.  She has multiple stints in rehab, which I also liked, because most people don't get better the first time.  More often than not, people enter rehab because their loved ones make them, not because they're ready to do so.  We see that, despite Lia's parents and family wanting her to fix her life, they're not really taking the time to HELP her fix it.  They seem to think everything is her fault.

But I think the part I like best is that Anderson makes us sympathize with our main character.  A lot of times in books like this, the person with the problem ends up being our bad guy.  Everything that happens is THEIR fault, and I don't get that with this book.  A big reason is that Lia has a great relationship with her younger sister.  She really adores the little girl and never wants to expose her to Lia's problems.  We see a incredibly human and compassionate side to Lia.

I'm with Alex that, should you want to get into problem novels, Hopkins is a great way to go.  Speak by Anderson is also another really great one to start with (especially if you're a little squeamish.  Anderson tends to keep the explicit details vague and focus more on the inner turmoil of the person.)

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