February 10, 2011


See What I See. By Gloria Whelan. HarperTeen. $16.99.

All You Get Is Me. By Yvonne Prinz. HarperTeen. $16.99.

     Fathers are often notable by their absence in novels for teenage girls. When they are present, as in these two books for ages 12 and up, they often turn out to be more trouble than they are worth, at least at the start. In Gloria Whelan’s See What I See, father and daughter are both artists, and daughter needs father in order to be able to go to art school. But 18-year-old Kate Tapert really does not know her father, Dalton Quinn, because Kate’s parents are divorced and her mother resumed her maiden name shortly after the split. Now Kate is about to become a scholarship student in Detroit, where her dad lives, and it is only by living with him that she can afford to attend art school. Dalton Quinn is a famous painter, and Kate is sure she can learn art from him and also learn about him, but he has not even answered her letters asking if she can stay with him while attending school. Kate heads for Detroit anyway, her father reluctantly allows him into his house, and she soon discovers that he is gravely ill and will die unless he gets a liver transplant – which has just been refused. So now, in a fairly typical teen-novel plot, Kate has to balance family issues against her own wishes and ambition, trying to figure out who she is, who she wants to be, and exactly what role she wants to play in her father’s life and have him play in hers. “I’ve given Dad my enthusiasm and now I don’t have any left,” says Kate at one point. Dalton Quinn is a prototypical self-involved artist and loner, foul-mouthed and dismissive of everyone from his daughter to the visiting nurse sent by the hospital to check on him. Slowly, slowly, daughter and father develop a bit of a relationship: “I’m amazed he’s talking to me as if I’m really going to be an artist one day. …Is he actually taking me seriously?” Kate works on her own paintings; one of them is sold – in what turns out to be a misguided attempt by her father to help her; and then one sells for real. And there are plenty of scenes involving Kate, a feral cat to which she grows attached, her father’s worsening health, and eventually his death and Kate’s decision (at her dying father’s request) to change her name to Kate Quinn. There is a modestly upbeat ending: Kate’s mother cannot let go of her resentment of her ex-husband, but Kate has come to understand him and to realize that even if she never becomes as famous as her father was, she still has a gift for art and much to bring to the world. Very little in See What I See is unusual or unexpected, but Whelan moves the book along briskly and treats family issues and typical coming-of-age stresses with enough sensitivity to please many readers.

     Yvonne Prinz does much the same with All You Get Is Me. Here too the protagonist is an artist of sorts: almost-16-year-old Aurora “Roar” Audley is a photographer. And here too her father is a problem: in this case, he is a crusader for human rights, and his preoccupations with migrant workers and the environment upend Roar’s world when her dad decides to move them out of the city that Roar loves so they can live on a farm. The move is connected with Roar’s dad’s crusade on behalf of undocumented Mexican farm workers (“in the city, my dad was a human rights lawyer, so trust me, no one’s better at getting up in your face than he is”); but to Roar, it is a huge irritation and inconvenience. The move is precipitated in part by the permanent departure of Roar’s unstable mother – a painter, like the father in See What I See – who “just up and disappeared one day” after going missing a number of times. Once Roar gets to the farm, there are numerous complicating factors in her life, including a fatal accident that becomes a cause for Roar’s father (the victim is an illegal immigrant) and a couple of friends, one of whom is a boy named Forest – to whom Roar has a typical-for-this-sort-of-novel reaction: “My pulse quickens and I think I feel the Earth move slightly.” Another friend, named Storm, creates some, well, stormy circumstances – her name is as obvious as Roar’s. The various relationships become interconnected and complicated, and Roar keeps returning to memories of her mother, and eventually reconnects with her – disturbingly, though. Just to make the point that this is a coming-of-age novel, the book comes to a climax “on the last day of my summer with Forest, which is also the eve of my birthday,” when Roar loses her virginity. And then she gets her driver’s license – and wins an important photography contest. This is quite a cascade of wish fulfillments. “You never know how a rite of passage is going to make you feel until you emerge on the other side,” says Roar, but you usually know pretty much how one is going to turn out in a teen-oriented book like All You Get Is Me. If there is very little of the unexpected here, there is at least a well-told story that is effectively pulled together at the end.

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