Rebellion, Identity, and Other Sources of Adolescent Angst

By Lani Harac — November 12, 2004 2 min read
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Teenage angst and rebellion are often expressed in unexpected ways, as the characters in nine new novels for readers 15 and older attest. Mara Valentine is heading into senior year with her plans mapped out in intricate detail in Vegan Virgin Valentine (Candlewick), by Carolyn Mackler. When her knows-no-boundaries niece—only a year younger—moves in and starts attending the same high school, Mara must reassess her own expectations and priorities. Australian teen Francesca Spinelli, reluctantly enrolled at a new Catholic school, has tried to avoid defining herself at all, letting friends and her mother do it instead. But in Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca (Knopf), she must find a way to keep her close-knit family together after her mom falls into severe depression. Tell It to Naomi (Delacorte), by Daniel Ehrenhaft, finds Dave, a New York City sophomore, literally suffering an identity crisis—he has to surreptitiously author the school newspaper advice column that his older sister is supposed to be writing.

In New Mexico, high schooler Sammy Santos is no stranger to keeping a low profile. It’s 1969, and he’s growing up in Hollywood, a place that sounds glamorous but is actually a poor barrio outside a small town rife with civil unrest and racial discrimination. Although Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood (Cinco Puntos) has its share of tragedy, Sammy, as narrator, imbues his views of the Vietnam War and the violence at home with quiet hopefulness. The 16-year-old title character of Allan Stratton’s Chanda’s Secrets (Annick), set in a fictional sub-Saharan country, doesn’t want to keep quiet any longer. Although it’s a source of great shame in her region, AIDS is killing friends and family alike, and she thinks it’s time her people battle the disease head-on. Another fictional setting, the British-seeming Tambleham, is home to a Safe-Keeper who hears and guards other people’s secrets. After she dies, her strong-willed teenage daughter assumes the responsibility and at times is unable to resist acting on those confidences in Sharon Shinn’s The Safe-Keeper’s Secret (Viking).

More than 250 years hence, in what is no longer the United Kingdom, the authorities in Jan Mark’s Useful Idiots (David Fickling) consider archaeology and history dead studies that served only to provoke cultural unrest and ethnic conflict. A human skull discovered on a remote beach demands a forensic investigation, however, and leads a young graduate student to unwittingly become a guinea pig in a bizarre experiment. Modern-day Britain is home to Will, an 18-year-old with special needs who moves into a semiautonomous group residence. Although his mom still tries to shelter him, Will manages to overcome his limitations in Naked Without a Hat (Delacorte), by Jeanne Willis. And Julie Chibbaro’s Redemption (Atheneum), narrated by 12-year-old Lily, begins in 16th century England and ends in America, where her kidnapped father has been forced by a “religious reformer” to help colonize the land.

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