Crutcher, Chris. 1991. Athletic shorts. New York, NY: Laurel-Leaf Books. ISBN: 0-440-21390-8.
This book is a collection of six short stories that can be thoroughly enjoyed by both boys and girls. Each story has its own message and a picture of the protagonist that can't be ignored, i.e. "Angus, the fat kid with perverted parents." Chris Crutcher has put together a collection of stories that depict real situations that teenagers might encounter and he shows the characters doing their best in these situations. As a result each teenager wins or conquers something in the course of just a few pages. This can be very encouraging for many readers who themselves are dealing with tough situations. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
The author has the following to say about this collection: " I like it when my stories are seen by my critics from the same perspective as that in which most human beings are seen by their critics - for doing their best in tough situations, for failure, for excesses, for heart, for the glorious and the ghastly." In each story the author has depicted the protagonist clearly with actions and thought. The situations are such that many teenagers can either identify with them as their own taken to the extreme or someone they know. Angus is elected Senior Winter Ball King as a joke. Johnny Rivers has to work through problems with his dad. Petey ends his wrestling career competing with a girl wrestler. Lionel has to deal with the death of his parents and brother in a boating accident. Jack has to deal with his fathers bigotry and balance it with his own experiences. Lastly, Louie Banks has to work out his feelings about a homosexual with aids. In each case, the main character overcomes and grows a little closer to maturity through personal discoveries of feelings and challenges. This collection will take you on an emotional ride that will enlighten and leave you thinking. Chris Crutcher has a way of getting you into the mind of a teenager in each story so you can feel the situation rather than just read about it.
Bauer, Joan. 1998. Rules of the road. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN: 0-399-23140-4.
Jenna Boller has had her driver's license for six months and looks at it as her ticket to freedom. She works in a shoe store and has great success in sales. In the story we find out about her alcoholic father as well as her mother and sister. Jenna ends up being a driver for the president of the company for the summer. Through this experience she changes her own self-concept and becomes a beautiful and confident young lady. She also manages to thwart an attempt by the president's son to take over the company. The special relationship that develops between Jenna and Mrs. Gladstone brings both humor and a special bonding in to the story.
Joan Bauer has put together a story that shows life lessons through courage, honesty and sole (soul). The main character, Jenna, has spent most of her life doing what she has to to take care of others in her life. While she also takes care of Mrs. Gladstone, she discovers the strength and wisdom of "senior citizens". Jenna takes each challenge and works through it until she has developed a philosophy that will help her through the rest of her life. Honesty is a big part of that philosophy. Each member of her family is affected by her changes and they grow in some way also. I am relieved that Jenna was able to conquer throughout the book and have that happy future. While facing up to her father was difficult, she had grown enough to quit making excuses for him and make an attempt to get him to face himself. As a result, Jenna does become free but not because of her driver's license. She finds freedom through her growing and accepting that others are responsible for their own actions. While her face-off with her father wasn't pleasant, it was an act of great courage to speak up and make a stand for herself and her family. I thoroughly engrossed myself in the story and in the evolving of Jenna into a young adult with strength, courage and confidence.
Nixon, Joan Lowery. 2000. Nobody's there. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 0-385-32567-3.
Abbie Thompson has just gotten in to trouble with the law. Her father has left her mother and is seeing a woman that is much younger, in fact, Abbie broke the woman's window with rocks and was arrested. As part of her sentencing, Abby is to help Mrs. Merkel, a stubborn senior citizen who sees herself as a private eye. The book favors us with humor and intrigue as we work through the various crimes that Mrs. Merkel solves. But the book really gets intense when Abbie has to find out and prove who almost killed Mrs. Merkel. So the reader has two stories going at once, Abbie dealing with her family situation and the story of Mrs. Merkel and the mysteries (cases) that result from their relationship with each other. The ending gives the reader resolution and satisfaction that these two will be close for a long time as they have shared so much together and have grown attached, which brings us a view of a much safer but interesting future.
This book is fast paced, intriguing and full of action and mystery. In fact, this is a book that one would have difficulty putting down once the first page is turned. While the parents are more in the distance throughout the book, the reader is still aware of the underlying tension in the family as a result of the split of the parents. Many young adults have undergone a separation of parents but the romance enters when we have Mrs. Merkel enter the story and take Abby on a series of adventures. While these can't be considered realistic, they are definitely interesting and good for escape reading. The underlying family breakup continues throughout with respectful treatment by the author and one comes away thinking things will work out there too. Through her experiences with Mrs. Merkel, Abby has grown to the point of dealing with whatever happens in her own future. As the author puts it: "Abbie no longer minded being Mrs. Merkel's partner in crime. . .Her own tale was probably not as easy to wrap up as the mystery novel, but she now felt ready for any twist in the story." Thus the reader feels that Abbie will be handling her life much better since she has known the stubborn Mrs. Merkel. By helping her, Abbie has become stronger and wiser.
Thomas, Rob. 1996. Rats saw god. New York, NY: Simon Pulse. ISBN: 0-689-80777-5.
Steve York is a high school senior who is extremely smart but who has let school and his personal life go to the bottom as he lives through the years following the divorce of his parents. As we read his journal-essay, we have the ability to experience his feelings, thoughts and experiences over four year period. We learn about his drinking, his drugs, his anti-social behavior and his sexual experiences. We have the unique opportunity to enter his mind and see life as he sees it. Through his writing, Steve begins a long climb to reality and maturity. His experiences and responses to them are very realistic in nature but the end result is positive and makes you feel good about his future in college.
Rob Thomas takes the reader deep in to the teenage mind. In fact, Chris Crutcher (Athletic shorts) has this to say about the book: "Funny, smart, tough. . . this is a very good book." High praise indeed for Rob Thomas. Rob combines realistic situations with the humorous to bring the reader into an awareness of the struggle that a teenage boy may experience while discovering himself. Steve York finds himself through his writing and one almost feels that Rob is writing about himself. The pain of loss, discovery and first love as well as first sexual experience is told in such a way as to take the reader on that roller coaster ride through the eyes of Steve. In the end, we find Steve going off to college with a new awareness of others and a new sense of his father and the love his father has for him. One feels that Steve will probably have more struggles ahead but he will be able to handle them much better. He will also have a father to turn to when/if that becomes necessary in the future. I would consider this to be a romance story that boys would definitely enjoy and this is a rarity in and of itself.