Thursday, February 23, 2012

Paranormal Young Adults

Some crazy things happen to teenagers in America today, if the YA fiction I've been reading lately is any indication. It's so not normal as to be paranormal. Or fantastic. Or some similar designation - I'm not always clear on how SFF genres differentiate themselves. At any rate, all of these heroines were leading what should have been perfectly normal high school lives, and then, things changed.

First teen up is Jessica Mastriani, who is, duh, struck by lighting in Meg Cabot's When Lightning Strikes. (Cabot originally published this series under pen name Jenny Carroll.)  Jess doesn't think it was a big deal, until she woke up the next morning knowing where the missing kid from her family's milk carton was located. With the help of bad boy Rob Wilkins, she discovers that yes, she really can find missing people. And no, it's not always that excellent a skill to possess. Particularly when some people are missing for good reasons, and also, the FBI are really freaking out your mentally unstable family members. 

I've not read much of Cabot's other YA work (though of course that's what she's known for) but I have gobbled up her Airhead, Heather Wells, and Queen of Babble books. They're fast and fun, not too quirky and consistently charming. After Lightning, I quickly moved on to the rest of the 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU books (Code Name Cassandra, Safe House, Sanctuary, and Missing You) and although I was jarred by the big time gap between the 4th and 5th books, I found them all very readable. I'll definitely be keeping Cabot on my radar.

Our next not-so-normal teen is Lenzi, the narrator of Mary Lindsey's Shattered Souls. Lenzi's still mourning her father's voices-in-his-head driven suicide when she turns 17 and starts to hear voices of her own. This freaks her the heck out. Her boyfriend Zak does what he can to calm her, but Zak has his own issues, and besides, it's a bit out of the realm of his experience. This becomes patently obvious when one of the voices takes corporeal form, and quite a cutie-pie form Alden is, too. What's more, Alden informs Lenzi that they've known each other for centuries, that the other voices are those of dead people who need her help to pass peacefully from this world, and that his job is to help her help them.

It's a lot to process, and Alden is both confounded and distressed by the fact that Lenzi can't remember any of this on her own. Gradually she comes to believe in him, and in the need for their work to continue. External pressures in the form of angry dead people, angry Zak, and the angry governing body of soul movers don't help Lenzi's journey, but she's a strong and resourceful character. Lindsey, by the way, is a neighbor friend, and this is her debut. I've been looking forward to its publication for a while now, and enjoying following her journey into authorship. After this inventive novel, I'm eager to see what she'll come up with next.

Finally, meet Kaye. Now, when Kaye was a little girl, Holly Black tells us in Tithe, she played with faeries. Everyone else thought they were her imaginary friends, but when she and her mother return to her grandmother's house after a few peripatetic years, it becomes clear that the Fae Realm is all too real. What's more, if the free faeries don't offer up a sacrificial human to the Dark Court, they'll be bound to the not-at-all-nice queen for seven years. And the free faeries - who include those long-ago playmates of Kaye's - have a plan wherein Kaye becomes the tithe. They explain that they'll trick the queen so Kaye won't die. Probably. Meanwhile, Kaye has befriended a bad boy of her own (these books always include bad boys, I'm finding. Bad boys are good.) He's a servant of the Dark Court, and none too happy about it. Things don't exactly go well for anyone, but Kaye is an intuitive and clever girl who has discovered a lot of power, and isn't willing to stand back rather than use it.

The second in this series, Valiant, alludes only peripherally to Kaye's adventure, but the third, Ironside, brings Kaye back front and center, and adds the characters in Valiant into the mix. Black built a complex world that works nicely with traditional faerie lore, at least as far as I've gleaned it from the unaccountable number of books I've read lately that include both Light and Dark Faerie Courts. (Those Fae get around literature like you wouldn't believe.) There's a distinctly dark and menacing side to Black's rendition, and Kate Rudd, who narrated the first and third audiobooks, captures it deftly. She also infuses a perfect amount of youthful uncertainty and anxiety into Kaye's voice as she deals with myraid new social situations. Ren√©e Raudman voices Valiant, and is a tad breathier than the grittiness of Val's story necessarily merits, but her handling of pacing and suspense is always stellar.

I'm going to have to look for some YA fiction that takes place entirely within the non-magical non-dystopian world I know. Until then, bring on the ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night.

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