Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins

repossessed

First thing I did was, I stole a body”

These words introduce the reader to Kiriel, a fallen angel who is fed up with his job tormenting souls in hell.  So he does what any demon who is feeling bored and underappreciated at work would do: he takes over the body of a teenage boy.   There are a few wrinkles – how to get rid of Shaun Simmons’ soul, for example,  or the fact that Kiriel’s little vacation from hell is highly unauthorized.

I loved the perspective that Kiriel brings to Shaun’s life. A total outsider who has never experienced life as teen, Kiriel can see through many of the ways in which Shaun holds himself back in his life. For example, Kiriel can immediately see how much Shaun’s little brother wants his friendship and love in a way that Shaun never could. On the other hand, it is also empowering for teens to see how much knowledge of the world they need  just in order to get through the day.  Watching Kiriel struggle through familiar situations and social dynamics that a teenager would understand without a second thought can demonstrate to a young person how much they already know about the world.

There was also a nice exploration of fantasy versus reality in Kiriel/Shaun’s relationship with Lane, a girl who has a long-time crush on Shaun. When Kiriel, who seems to think about sex just as much as your typical teenage boy, starts to act out one of Lane’s fantasies about Shaun word for word, her reaction is not exactly positive.  It’s a scene that’s very funny and very revealing.

I enjoyed the way that this book highlighted everyday experiences – the little joys in life that are so easy to forget or gloss over. As Kiriel experiences things for the first time, he calls attention to the many pleasures in life that often go unremarked.

The book’s message got a little bit heavy-handed toward the end, but it is still an important one.  Even in the life of fairly introverted teenage boy, he has made important and lasting connection with the people around him.  Shaun is chosen as  a host body exactly because he was a pretty isolated person, and Kiriel assumed that no one paid too much attention to his life. But Kiriel learns that “Shaun Simmons had made a specific mark on his little world, simply by being,” and that his absence would be missed.

Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman

Son of the Mob

Vince Luca’s father’s job has always caused trouble for Vince’s dating life. There was the time his date found an unconscious guy tied up in the trunk of his car, and he gets into trouble every time a girl wants to come home to meet his family. Life’s tough when your dad is the head of the New York mafia. When he meets Kendra, Vince finally thinks he’s found someone who’s worth all the trouble. When he finds out that her dad is in the FBI, he gets a little bit worried. When he finds out that her dad is investigating his dad, life gets really, really complicated.

The classic Romeo and Juliet romantic story is satisfying, but the really engaging part of this book is Vince’s moral struggle with his role as the child of a mob boss. In his attempts to help a few men who owe his father money, Vince finds himself more and more entangled in the family business, which he has always avoided. In the end, Vince has to make a choice about his own future, but he also has to protect his family from the FBI investigation. Vince’s choices provide a moral core for a very funny book. It is this story, and not the trite love interest, that makes Korman’s book unexpectedly satisfying.

King Dork, by Frank Portman

dork1.jpg

The Catcher in the Rye changed Tom Henderson’s life. But not in the way you think – he’s not a part of the Catcher cult, who carry the book everywhere and idolize Holden Caulfield as the perfect teenager. It was Tom’s dead father’s copy of the book that changed his life, when Tom finds a mysterious note written inside. Notes in several of Tom’s father’s old books lead him into a strange conspiracy involving his father’s death and the Vice Principal’s seedy past. At the same time that Tom is investigating the mystery of his dad’s library, he is also trying to navigate the strange world of girls, several of whom suddenly and strangely drop into his life. Add to this the daily struggle that is high school, and Tom’s best friend Sam’s constant re-vamping of their band, and Tom’s life is suddenly very complicated.

Portman’s first novel is a brilliant, cynical look at the life of a high school dork. That he leaves the plot’s complex intricacies fairly open-ended and unresolved at the finish of the novel was a perfect reflection of Tom’s high school life, where nothing ever has any deeper meaning. The Catcher in the Rye allusions add another layer to this pastiche of a teenager searching for something. Tom’s narration is caustic, thoughtful, and most of all funny. It is easy for most readers to relate at some level to a clever outsider, and Tom fills that role well. However, Portman never lets his novel fall into the typical YA cliches. Instead, he consistently challenges and surprises the reader, and also treats them to a really excellent book.

Catch, by Will Leitch

Catch

The Temples family is like royalty in tiny Mattoon, Illinois, and Tim Temples is no exception. A popular high-school athlete going into the summer after his senior year, Tim is on his way to college, and he is preparing to leave his comfortable life as a big man in a small town. Hanging over him are the failures of his older brother Doug, who used to be a hero to Tim. After losing out on his minor-league baseball contract and dropping out of college, Doug is now back in Mattoon, and his relationship with his family is strained. While Tim works a summer job at the local Lender’s bagel factory, he meets an acerbic older woman, Helena. She is unlike anyone Tim has ever known in Mattoon, and their confusing, exciting relationship challenges and matures Tim, helping him make his choice to move on.

While Catch sometimes feels formulaic, Leitch’s love for the small-town Midwest keeps the novel fresh. Tim’s complex inner life shines through in the narration and when he is with Helena, in a way that rarely comes out with his family or his jock friends. There were a few things I found distracting about the novel – occasional stilted dialogue, and the frequent sports references, especially all the shout-outs to my favorite baseball team’s fairly recent real-life games. The story is pervaded with a sense of place, and the Cardinals references help reinforce that very Midwestern feel. Despite some flaws, Tim and his coming-of-age story are surprisingly affecting by the end of the novel.

The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Year of Secret Assigments

None of the girls at Ashbury High School are pleased about the penpal program with Brookfield, the rival school. When best friends Cassie, Lydia, and Emily start their letter exchange with three Brookfield boys, they see it as a chore. But all three eventually find themselves drawn to their new penpals, setting off a series of secret missions and mistaken identities. A falling out between the girls and their penpals leads to a similar falling out between the three girls. When Cassie’s penpal turns out to not be the person they thought he was, the other four must come together to get revenge for Cassie and to prove that they did not vandalize the boys school.

This light novel, told mainly in epistolary form, was charming and funny. There was, however, one part of the novel that I found problematic. The climax happens when Cassie meets with her penpal in a park at night. The meeting is not shown or discussed for some time, we only see Cassie’s reaction. She is found sobbing by her friends and is unwilling to talk about her experience. From her reaction and the writing at this point in the book, my assumption was that Cassie had been assaulted or raped. While this seemed to be the books implication for several chapters, it eventually comes out that Matthew was just very unkind to Cassie. This fit in much better with the light-hearted tone of the book, and I wonder why it was made into a secret for so long, leaving the reader to assume something much worse.