December 20, 2007


What They Found: Love on 145th Street. By Walter Dean Myers. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.99.

Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List. By Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Knopf. $16.99.

Red Glass. By Laura Resau. Delacorte Press. $15.99.

      People outside the mainstream are just like people inside it. In fact, the distinction between “mainstream” and “outside” gets harder to make in the United States as general tolerance of people with non-mainstream skin color, sexual orientation and ethnicity increases (despite some strong and notable backlash). These three books appear to target audiences within audiences: teens or preteens, but specifically ones who are “different” from the majority in one way or another.

      What They Found: Love on 145th Street is a followup to Walter Dean Myers’ 145th Street: Short Stories. The new book, for ages 14 and above, is also a series of stories, the focus here being on the ways in which young black men and women find love. There is some neat intertwining, as Myers uses a beauty shop as the central storytelling locale and the source of some everyday tales of love. But the book’s style, although clever, is less the point than its content. Myers wants to demonstrate that love shows up in the unlikeliest of places. There is love at a funeral, as the wife – now widow – of the deceased realizes that his love will always be present for his family. There is a single mother, struggling with day-to-day life, who is helped by a painting to see herself as deserving of love – including love for herself. There is love far from 145th Street, in the story of a corporal fighting in Afghanistan. There is humor here, too, some of it rough and some reflected in such chapter titles as “The Man Thing” and “Society for the Preservation of Sorry-Butt Negroes.” It takes a certain worldview, and perhaps (even in relatively enlightened times) a certain skin color, to appreciate all the nuances of this book – a limitation for some, a likely source of pride for others.

      Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, also for ages 14 and up, is not a sequel in content, but is a followup to Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s first team-writing effort, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The new book, in place of the earlier one’s he-said-she-said format, offers multiple viewpoints that collectively explore the complexities of the relationship that Naomi and Ely have had since they were kids. Naomi wishes they would end up together, but Ely is gay, so that won’t happen, and the two decide to create the no-kiss list of the title to indicate people who are hands off (or lips off) for both of them. Of course, the list doesn’t quite work out: Ely kisses Naomi’s boyfriend, and a series of revelations and misunderstandings leads to a complete breakdown in the Naomi-Ely friendship – which the two then painstakingly repair as they work their way back toward a more knowing version of what they once had together. The convolutions are a bit much here, and the sexual exploration will not be to all tastes, but the story is well told and the varying viewpoints add additional interest.

      Red Glass, the second novel by Laura Resau, features someone who is an outsider not by skin color or sexuality but simply by geography. Like her first book, What the Moon Saw, this tale is about finding yourself by finding the place where you belong and the people with whom you fit, no questions asked. But of course you must ask many questions to get to the no-questions-asked stage, and Sophie asks lots of them in Red Glass. A fearful child herself, she wants to know why almost-six-year-old Pedro was carrying the business card of Sophie’s stepfather, who does not know him, when Pedro tried to sneak across the Mexican border into the United States. Pedro is the only survivor of the group that tried the border crossing, which included his parents; he is dehydrated and hospitalized at the start of the novel, and is too young to understand much of what happened. He comes to live with Sophie, her parents and her aunt Dika – a refugee from the war in Bosnia (there are lots of refugees in this book – Resau tends to hammer her points home). Intended for ages 10 and up, Red Glass may be too harrowing for some preteens and too one-sided for older readers. Resau, who is not Latina but who lived in Mexico for two years and now teaches English as a Second Language, clearly loves Mexico and the people who live there, and feels the plight of would-be Mexican emigrants strongly. But in her eagerness to tug at readers’ heartstrings, she tends to pull a little too hard.

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