Bones and All

bonesandall

Bones and All
Camille DeAngelis
St. Martin’s Press
March 2015
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
Alex Award winner

Sixteen-year-old Maren lives with an unusual affliction – spontaneous cannibalism. Since she was a baby, whenever she has warm or romantic feelings toward a person, she can’t stop herself from eating that person, causing her and her mother to be constantly on the lam, running from the last incident before law enforcement got suspicious. Now Maren is 16 and her mother has left her to fend for herself with only some money and Maren’s birth certificate, which happens to list her absent father’s name. With nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, Maren hits the road to find the father she never knew. Along the way she meets regular, friendly people who just want to help her as well as other cannibals who have learned to cover their tracks as well as Maren has. Her journey takes her all over the Eastern U.S., making this a horror/road trip novel as well as a something that is borderline paranormal romance. The premise is compelling in its strangeness if you can stomach the cannibalism, which is rarely described in gory detail. In the hands of a more indulgent or Stephen-King-esque writer, this could have gotten really gross, but DeAngelis gives you just enough detail to let your imagination fill in the gaps. However, this lack of detail begs a lot of questions. For example, at the end of a feeding, Maren is left with a grocery bag’s worth of remains, much less space than is needed to simply pack up the bones of an adult human. So what’s in the bag? Just clothing? Did she eat the bones (as the title suggests) and any parts in the bag are just what she refuses to eat out of necessity or decency? What are her teeth like to allow her to do this? How is this even possible? Am I overthinking this? How long until I can eat a medium-rare steak without thinking about this book? This almost goes without saying, but there is also a lot of suspension of belief going on. Things seem to happen too easily and a lot goes completely unexplained.

This book reminded me of a grad school conversation in a class about censorship and gatekeepers. Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book and a man of almost consummate children’s literature knowledge, taught the class and on the last day asked us to think of topics that are still so taboo in literature for children, which in our case included YA, that they are never written about. We didn’t come up with many ideas but cannibalism was one that we agreed was off-limits for children’s lit. The Alex Awards are for adult books that appeal to teens, so I can’t quite check cannibalism off the list of verboten topics based on Bones and All, but it’s pretty close.

Read Alikes

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

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NaNoReadMo: Punkzilla

punkzilla

Punkzilla
Adam Rapp
Candlewick
May 2009

Jaime, aka Punkzilla, is a 14-year-old runaway on a road trip from Portland, Oregon, to Memphis, racing against time to see his older brother Peter, aka P, who is dying from cancer. Told in a series of letters addressed to P but kept, most likely permanently, in his notebook, Jaime rehashes the last few months of his life – escaping the military academy his parents sent him to, living as a homeless teen, doing meth and other drugs, stealing electronics and committing other petty crimes to survive – and his current road trip across the country. On his way he meets all manner of people in encounters that range from scary – getting mugged in a men’s restroom and later preyed upon by an adult sexual predator – to formative – falling in love and losing his virginity to a girl with Lupus and striking up a friendship with a transgendered man named Lewis. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style that is full of run-on sentences, swearing, anecdotes, soul searching, and identity questioning, Punkzilla presents in a raw and unflinching way the kind of teen that society pushes to the margins and largely pretends doesn’t exist, and it will have you rooting for him to make it to his brother and through life all the way.

As someone who grew up relatively sheltered and privileged, Punkzilla had passages that I found hard to read and others that made me plush but in a way that makes you feel more alive when you come out at the other end of it. Since I first read this book, I have come to work with teens who have similar issues to Jamie – homelessness, criminal history, abuse, and drug addiction, among other things. I so appreciate books like Punkzilla both for providing me a small window into harsh realities and for giving me something that I can hand these kids that’s not another sugarcoated teen problem novel full of “first-world problems.” They may not be the most uplifting or best selling (through Punkzilla did get a Printz honor), but books like this are so important when we talk about teens seeing themselves in the books they read and feeling that their stories are represented.

Read alikes:

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Keesha’s House by Helen Frost
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
 by Hunter S. Thompson