Judging a book by its cover only works 50% of the time.
I chose Susane Colasanti’s Keep Holding On because of the cover, but here’s the catch: I chose it because I didn’t like the cover. The copy I found was a random find. While shelving at the library one day, I happened across a picture of two people holding hands in a classroom, a heart painted on one hand. Normally, the abundance of pinks would be revolting to me. Since I’m trying to read all types of YA books for this challenge, I picked it up. No regrets.
This novel was pretty much what I thought it would be: romance and betrayal; high school cliques; drama; tame retribution… I still enjoyed it. The story featured more than just the advertised romance. Bullying was the novel’s message, a subject I hold close to my heart. (Spoiler alert!) I could have done without the suicide, though. It doesn’t always happen in high schools, and it doesn’t always happen within the same year of being bullied. Sometimes, it festers for years. Sometimes, it heals. Sometimes, it’s not committed by the obvious people. This was a quick read for its heaviness and, sure, I’ll recommend this to anyone.
Because I liked Colasanti, I decided to read another of her novels. Take Me There seemed appealing enough. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I didn’t glom onto the main character as I did in Keep Holding On, which is odd; I’m generally tired of main characters who have a woe-is-me outlook on life. My own tastes betrayed me this time.
I’ll give any book 50 pages. Almost any book. If the author can’t make me want to keep reading after that long, I ditch the book. Take Me There was one such book, If I really think I should like the book, I give it another 50. If the book has less appeal by page 100, again, I ditch it. The third novel I tried for this post, Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, received 100 pages of reading from me.
I have shelved many of Richard Paul Evans’ adult books. They’re lightweight and easy to spot on the shelf. I call them “old people novels” because they’re short and always feature a wreath or horse (or something, I don’t know) on the covers. Again, I’m simply judging his entire adult work on book covers. This YA novel surprised me. It looks action-packed(!) and different from what I perceived this man to be. On this cover, a teen stands before a blue, industrial portal, flashes of electricity emanating from him. What I got, though, was one chapter of suspense and intrigue and the remaining 98 pages of smalltalk between characters. For some readers, the intrigue and mere promise of action would be enough to hold on to. For me, it wasn’t.
There was a great part, though, that might be political commentary in disguise:
I wondered what good it was being president of something if you’re always being told what to do by the members.
I see what you did there.
Finally, I have mixed feelings about Sarah Dessen’s Just Listen. This was on my personal list because it promised deep discussion about music, something I’d often thought about writing in the YA genre. Without this title, though, I would have hesitated to choose this or any of Dessen’s books. If you look at a page featuring all her book covers, you’d swear you can pick out the Mane Six from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
I have mixed feelings about Just Listen. It’s Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak times three. The drama. Oh, the drama. At least I made it past page 100. By the time I reached page 200, I figured, “Might as well keep going.” I’m glad I did. (If it’s on my personal list, I must finish it!) It was great worldbuilding. I’ll give it that. There was so much I learned about every person in the heroine’s intimate life that I thought I knew them myself. Sometimes the regret in their lives made my brain hurt. I didn’t want to continue reading, but I needed to. I’m glad I finally read this, but I’m also glad it’s over.
Perhaps the way all the conflict was resolved gave me the impression this thick(er) book wasn’t worth it in the end. For all this buildup, I expected something bigger. Instead, it fizzled. You could read Speak, followed by Becoming Naomi León by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and get a better payoff. However, there are two things Dessen does better here than Anderson and Ryan.
(Spoilers ahead!) First, she’s better at portraying what may happen after first- or second-degree rape. There isn’t much of a great big dramatic “justice is served” type of scene like in Speak. Everything is quieter. Because the heroine is afraid to speak up in much of her life, she doesn’t miraculously change when this event happens. It’s a character flaw that, yes, she eventually sorts out. That’s called Character Development, and it’s shown well here. Second, Dessen is skilled at going to and from flashbacks. So much so that I sometimes didn’t realize she had gone on a tangent until she was returning to the original scene. That’s great. That means I’m invested in what’s going on. It got overwhelming a little too often because of Teh Drama, but it was interesting watching a flashback that lead into a description, needing another flashback to provide more information, and so on. I’ll recommend this book to writers for these two reasons.
These two novels I finished have more than pastel covers in common. They’re both publications of Penguin’s Speak, which is aimed at teens with difficult subjects such as these. (Fun fact: Laurie Halse Anderson has published under here and Puffin. Love ya, girl.) This was pure coincidence. The Library’s genre labels covered this little part of the spine, but I still chose these particular books. Pretty neat.