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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Land of Misfit Teens by Katie Charles

Land of Misfit Teens by Katie Charles
Publisher: Desert Breeze
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (84 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Geranium

Amelia MacDonald liked her life.

Her parents were both teachers, which most kids would find annoying, but Amelia liked it just fine. Sure, her family was quirky -- with her 'Da' being Scottish and a bit on the Geek Chic side -- and her mom was actually fun to hang out with -- but that was the way she liked it.

Then everything changed. Fast.

Her mom died, her family broke. If that wasn't bad enough, the university where her father taught literally shut down without enough students to keep it open. Everything she thought her senior year -- her life -- would be just disappeared.

Now, she and her Da are trying to rebuild their lives with only 2/3rds of their family. She's in a new school where quirky isn't cool, and it's even more uncool when your father is the new English teacher and he's unlike any teacher any kid at this school has ever seen.

She could try to be like everyone else, try to blend in as best as any 'new kid' can, but that's not Amelia.

Taking a stand makes her plenty of enemies, but by Christmas her senior year, she's also made the kinds of friends who will last her a lifetime. They all live in the Land of Misfit Teens, but at least they live there together.

This is one of those novels I couldn't put down. Make no mistake, though there are romantic elements in this story, it's not one of those HEA novels. It tackles difficult subjects – the death of a parent, loss of income, gang violence – and the 19 year old author isn't afraid to tell it like it is: it sucks. It sucks right from the prologue, where main character Amelia describes her mother's death, right through the shoot-out by rival gangs in the school Amelia now attends.

The concerns of the characters, true to the teen experience, range from the mundane ("does he like me?"), to the serious: will her father be able to afford to send her to college. Chapter one, Amelia starts attending an inner city Chicago high school. She gets lost, and when she finally finds an office, the secretary is more interested in complaining than in helping Amelia. It's funny, and it's true, and it's sad. It's told in the third person, with multiple points of view, and Amelia's voice, ironic and self-deprecating, is distinctive. I enjoyed this line, which ends chapter one: The silence was broken by someone coughing. Oh, yeah, this was going to be fun.

The book contains a number of places where “where” is used when the text should contain “were.” In fact, there were so many I can't help thinking that this was one of those editing glitches we all are prone to: hitting “replace all” when that's not what we wanted to do.

The point-of-view shifts are well-handled, and there was no head-hopping, but occasionally, as at the start of chapter three, I was unsure who the point of view character was until half-way down the page. And I didn't feel that the author provided quite enough details of the setting for me to really picture it. I wanted to see, smell, hear, what the high school halls were like, and I didn't quite get it.

The author has a real feel for plot and pacing, and the book rolls along at a good clip, with just enough light relief to provide a welcome break, as when Drake agonizes over whether or not to sit next to Victoria at lunch toward the end of Chapter Seven. And the shoot out in the school hallway had me digging my nails into the palm of my hand.

Kudos to the author, who manages to convey her message about teen violence without descending into either melodrama or preachiness. If you're a teen, the parent of a teen, or, yes, were a teen, you won't want to miss this fine book.

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