Two More YA Novels
I first heard of Kody Keplinger because we both posted on an Absolute Write forum. She'd written a book when she was 18 and was querying agents. Eventually, she received representation and her book—The Duff— was published. In The Duff, 15-year-old Bianca is the designated ugly fat friend of some cheerleader types who let her hang around them, especially if she drives them where they want to go. At a club, where her friends are having a good time, Wesley—the rich guy who sleeps with anyone—calls her "Duff" and explains what the term means. She hates Wesley, but—unbeknownst to her friends—ends up having some pretty hot sex with him on a regular basis. Naturally, she has problems at home—her mother takes off and then returns several months later—and several other issues to work through.
Because of its sexual content and language, this book will probably appear on some banned book lists. See this review for more details. However, The Duff is a book that many YAs need to read—especially any girl who thinks she isn't as cool as her friends, who lives in a dysfunctional home, who uses sarcasm to cover up her true feelings, and/or who's trying to find herself. The Duff might also be a good book for moms to discuss with daughters. It certainly covers a lot of issues without being obvious or preachy.
Keplinger does a great job with characterization and dialogue. Her teen characters are believable, and the plot works well. The Duff is told from Bianca's viewpoint, and Bianca's voice rings true. Plus, she makes the part about Bianca being attracted to the guy she hates believable.
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, was first published in 1999, has gone through several editions since, and has won many awards. It's also made some banned book lists. In 2010, a professor at MSU called Speak "immoral, filthy, and soft porn." If I had to pick the best YA book I've read this year—and I've read some good ones, it would be Speak.
The book has already been reviewed many times, and many of the reviewers already said what I wanted to say. Some reviews are here, here, here, and here. There are many, many more. Here's the blurb on the inside flap of the edition I purchased:
Melinda is a complex character, and Anderson makes her—and her dysfunctional high school—believable. Speak is a story not only for YA girls, but also one that middle school and high school teachers should read. Many public school teachers—as well as most high school students—can probably identify with "The First Ten Lies They Tell You in High School" (pp. 5-6):
1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with you in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.
In the 1980s, I had a girl in my English 8 class who didn't speak. I can still see her face and her smile. She'd communicate by nodding or by writing a note. Back then I wondered why she had chose to not speak. Now I wonder if something traumatic had happened to her.
Publishers Weekly and a few other sources says that Speak is for 12 and up. I'd change that to 14 and up. One study guide is here. If you want to read more about banned books, there's info on the American Library Association website here and the Banned Books Website here.