Sunrise was at 5:59, sunset will be at 8:30. Tomorrow, sunrise will officially (in my view, anyway) no longer be early. It is overcast, cold, and the high will be somewhere around 72, late in the afternoon. Yeah, it's summer.
It is, however, perfect weather for reviewing a couple of darker teen novels, very good, very intense ones. The characters in The Space Between Trees and Dark Song are so easy to identify with especially if you are lonely, sad, or a "disaffected" youth. Sometimes it is just easier to go along with someone who doesn't give you a chance to say no or someone who seems smarter and likes you for who you are, "not like those other people".
Dark Song, by Gail Giles, is a good addition to her canon of books that deal with difficult issues like death, violence, impostors, predators. The books she writes are good ways for people to look at these issues, edge up to and peek over at something without actually going through with it.
Ames is a young girl whose family has just flown apart. They have always been at the upper end of the economic scale, large house, good vacations. Her mother has always been controlling and insistent, her father funny and loose.
When he is fired for stealing from his work to support his family in the way they have become accustomed, the core of each person's personality begins to eat its way to the forefront. Her father gambles with the savings accounts, there is nothing to borrow against, he succumbs to alcohol, drinking to abandon.
Her mother becomes even more controlling, selling everything worth anything, holding onto the few things she knows they will need to be able to survive until someone can get work. She contacts her in-laws, people she has never met, people her husband said abused him, to get help.
They offer her one of the rental units they own and all hell breaks loose when he finds out what she's done. They move to Texas to live in and repair the house the in-laws have offered them and at this moment, Ames realizes that everything she has ever known in her life has been a lie. Not one piece of her past is built on anything solid.
The handsome young man who comes to help them put up walls and paint, offers her a way out. Marc, a man who looks at her as if he really knows her, tells her she's beautiful, tells her he knows how to keep her safe, that he will never hurt her or lie to her, and that he knows how best to help her by getting rid of her parents.
Ames, who feels she has nothing left worth holding onto, is ripe for Marc's compliments and ideas, and begins to basks in the constant attention and time he spends with her. He tells her that no one is like her and he is the only one she needs. Ames is drawn to the darkness and sadness she feels in him, his dark song calls to hers.
I couldn't stop reading Dark Song, I'm glad it was summer then. It's fast paced and chilling. It's a good book for discussions about physical and mental abuse between young people and how to recognize it. Ages 14 and up. (Little Brown. Hardcover, $16.99. Available in September, 2010.)
The Space Between Trees, by Katie Williams, is a beautifully written debut novel. I love debut novels, don't you? There is so much promise in them, so much more to look forward to.
This is the story of Evie, a girl without many friends; she's a loner who delivers newspapers on Sundays and has a crush on the guy who collects the dead animals out of the small woods near her delivery route, Jonah.
One morning, early, Jonah finds a body in the woods.
When Evie finds out that the body she watched brought out of the woods was her childhood friend, Zabet, things begin to get very complicated.
Everyone is talking about the murder and Evie feels connected to Zabet even though their friendship was a long time ago. She is fascinated by the friendship Zabet had with a girl named Hadley, her best friend for years. How did they meet? How could the gentle, quiet Elizabeth Evie knew, morph into the Zabet who is best friends with the prickly, loud, party going, Hadley?
When an awkward encounter with Evie's father at the funeral ends up with an invitation to come to dinner at his house with Hadley, a few quiet lies about their relationships with each other are told, there are made up recent memories, and Evie is snared into an odd friendship with Hadley.
Hadley is obsessed with what happened to Zabet, following clues through the woods, stalking anyone who might have information about the murder, and is ruthless in pushing Evie into coming with her. Evie has replaced Zabet as Hadley's best friend, only in a different way.
Evie has never had a friend like Hadley. Hadley is fearless, slightly slutty, scared, still young but wants to be older, kisses boys, drinks, smokes cigarettes, she's dangerous. Evie is so attracted to her, she loves the attention she gets by being with her, and when things go wrong, Evie is the strong one.
Complicated relationships, yearning for love, excitement, The Space Between Trees is a great story about growing up.
I like how complicated the characters are in this book. Evie does things that remind me of people I know, people who make me cringe for the way they are, the way they try and make friends. Hadley is one of those girls, like Lindsay in Before I Fall, who are afraid of so much that they have to attack it before it gets them. They do everything fast and early so they can think they have control over it. The book is kind of edgy, it involves serious issues dealing with emotions and sex, but it feels as if you are reading it through memory. It is hushed and quiet, like an early foggy morning, even during the yelling and driving.
I love the way Katie Williams writes. Evie's narration of what happened during this time is almost like reading a diary you know no one else will ever read. The things she says about having a crush, what if feels like when that accidental touch makes the hair on your arm stand up, she peppers the narrative with such personal notes you know exactly what Evie is thinking, because you've felt that way, too.
The Space Between Trees is for ages 12 and up. (Chronicle Books. Hardcover, $16.99. Available now.)