Kids these days. With their iPods and LiveJournals, their lives are simultaneously as foreign and familiar as ours were when we were teenagers. But here’s the important question: what are they reading? Well, I don’t know, but it could be one (or both!) of these books which I am going to review for you now.
Pretty Little Devils by Nancy Holder
Pretty Little Devils is chick lit for the 15-and-under crowd. An interesting amalgamation of the movie Heathers (or the more recent Mean Girls) and The Babysitters Club series (perhaps with reminiscent touches of Christopher Pike novels — the ones where the kids have a party and people start getting stabbed — or perhaps I’m reaching), the novel tells the story of Hazel Stone, who, by the time she reaches her junior year, really wants to make it on to the high school social A-list. And the A-list at her school consists of four girls known as the Pretty Little Devils (PLDs). Fortunately for Hazel, the PLDs are looking to add a girl to their clique and pick her. This means that Hazel ditches all of her old friends and spends Fridays with a purple scrunchie in her hair because she’s better than everyone else. Over time, Hazel starts developing doubts about the group’s ringleader, a girl named Sylvia, who has a pretentious habit of dropping French phrases into conversation. Anyway, there are hook ups, break ups, plenty of underage drinking and occasional drug use, several pranks inspired by horror movies, and babysitting (these kids have cell phones to pay for) to keep the first part of the book rolling along. And then people start getting hacked to bits by a psychopathic classmate who, in a demonstration that this is not one of your mama’s teenager horror books, keeps a blog about it. (I wonder what the URL of that thing is, and deeply hope that it’s iliketostab.blogspot.com.)
The bodies pile up for awhile, but it all turns out alright in the end — sort of. I would explain more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. To a 26-year-old (which is what I am), this book was incredibly cheesy — I rolled my eyes at least once every other page — but then I thought about whether I would’ve liked it when I was younger and realized that if this had been around when I was 13, I would’ve been all over it. That’s the best endorsement I can give.
Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan (Illustrated by Brian Selznick)
This slender volume is a clever update of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Set in the lives of modern high school students, it deals with the transformation of a boy named Ben, who has become incredibly bitter and angry after cancer takes the life Marly, his childhood sweetheart. Marly’s death makes Ben believe that he’ll never love again, and that love is, as he says in chapter 1, “a humbug”. Yet, over Valentine’s Day weekend, Ben is visited by Marly’s ghost who tells him that three additional spirits — the ghosts of love past, present and future — will come to him because he needs to change his ways. Over the course of the ghosts’ visits, Ben is confronted with the bitter person he’s become and transforms into someone with an open heart just in time for Valentine’s Day.
There’s a potential problem in updating a story that is so familiar, it’s become part of the popular consciousness, in that the newer version faces the danger of being nothing more than a hollow parody of the original. Levithan sidesteps this issue by taking the story out of its original setting (switching from Christmas to Valentine’s Day) and by dealing honestly with his characters. Yes, on every page, it’s easy to see where Levithan is updating Dickens (like how he’s turned Tiny Tim from a sickly child to a couple whose names are Tiny and Tim, respectively), yet he still manages to make the story entirely his own. I think a lot of times, in writing and in life, adults talk to kids the way they think kids want to be talked to, instead of understanding that kids are people on their own level. As a result, they often take on a slightly patronizing, faux-cool tone that’s incredibly easy to see through. Yet, with Marly’s Ghost, David Levithan takes on the heavy subject of grief and makes it relatable. Not an easy feat, but the result is a lovely book.