Feb 24, 2014
Confession: I work with teens in a library setting, but I'm not generally a huge fan of YA books. *Boo* Hiss* I know, I know. Keep in mind there are exceptions, for one, I loved Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl.
(Ms. Rowell, by the way, is doing multiple Read Brave events in St. Paul this week that you should definitely check out if you can.)
But in general, books marketed as Young Adult don't work for me. Even when I was in the target audience, you could usually find me reading adult fiction. It might be because I did not like high school, so spending more time there in any capacity is not appealing to me. Even YA fantasy, taking place well outside of the dreary, cinder block reality that is high school, still traffics in unavoidable high school emotions and issues. It's often just too much for me.
I know I was not alone as a teen reader who preferred books not specifically written with someone my age in mind. The ALA (American Library Association) and YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) know that too. That is why they founded the Alex Awards. The Alex Awards are given annually to ten books written for adults that are deemed to have special appeal to teens. Some of my favorite books of the last 17 years have been winners, such as Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons, Jeff Lemire's Tales From the Farm, Peter Bognanni's The House of Tomorrow, and Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette.
Mark Slouka's Brewster was one of the winners this year. Brewster tells the story of Jon Mosher and Ray Cappicciano, two teens growing up in the late 1960s in Brewster, New York. Both come from dysfunctional homes, and bond over wanting to get out of Brewster as soon as they can. I had high hopes for Brewster, and the first few chapters made good on my hopes, but it started losing steam with a trip that Jon and a short-term love interest take to a nearby hippie couple's home. The book is at its best when Slouka writes about running, and when the cracks in Ray's tough-guy exterior show.
There is some beautiful prose here, cut with some very ugly situations. It reminds me of what might have happened if Raymond Carver tried his hand at a YA novel. Overall, it was an enjoyable enough read, but didn't quite live up to the promise of its beginning.
3 out of 5 stars.