Skate. By Michael Harmon. Knopf. $15.95.
Life as It Comes. By Anne-Laure Bondoux. Delacorte Press. $15.99.
Cures for Heartbreak. By Margo Rabb. Delacorte Press. $15.99.
Grief Girl: My True Story. By Erin Vincent. Delacorte Press. $15.99.
Readers ages 14 and up who are looking for summertime emotional catharsis will find it in any one of these four books – although reading two or more in quick succession risks drying out the tear ducts. Individually, each book is heartfelt, well written and freighted with meaning and intensity. But despite the fact that the characters and situations are, on the surface, quite different, the books have so many commonalities of theme and approach that they end up seeming like variations on a formula.
Skate, for example, is Michael Harmon’s gritty story of Ian McDermott, a high-schooler with a drug-addicted mom and absent father. He angers easily, is sure the school administration is out to get him, and eventually slugs a teacher – breaking his jaw. Now Ian has to get away, taking with him his young brother, Sammy, to whom he is as devoted as only a pseudo-parent can be. Their odyssey takes them across the state of
The same is true of Life as It Comes, a European-flavored story (Anne-Laure Bondoux is French) in which the troubled young people are female rather than male. Those young people are studious and serious 15-year-old Mado and her flighty party-girl big sister, 21-year-old Patty. This family too is sundered, not by divorce but by death: the girls’ parents die in an accident, Patty becomes Mado’s guardian, and Mado (predictably) soon shows herself to be the adult one in the relationship. Then the slutty Patty reveals that she is pregnant – without all the anguish you would find in a
There’s death and a sense of new beginnings in Cures for Heartbreak, too. In Margo Rabb’s novel, things proceed at a headlong pace from the start: 15-year-old Mia Pearlman’s mother is diagnosed with cancer and dies 12 days later. Mia still has her father – and an older sister, Alex – and everyone tries to make some sort of life after the family is ripped apart. This time it is the older sister who is the studious one; the father gets on with life by dating and eventually asking someone to marry him; and book sections such as “The Healthy Heart” and “How to Find Love” are introduced with quotations from Toni Morrison and Sex Tips for Girls. No happy ending here, though: Mia is involved with a boy who has cancer, and is well aware of what that can mean; and her father’s remarriage ends quickly and disastrously. There is a feeling of reality to this book – it is based on Rabb’s own experiences – but even if it ends with only a glimmer of hope, it does so with the neatly tied-up flair of a novel.
Grief Girl, however, is not a novel: it is Erin Vincent’s story of herself. Yet it is so close to these other books for teens that it is hard to separate the fact from the fiction. The book starts with the death of Erin’s parents in a car crash – leaving