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Something Old, Something New: Loosely Connected Short Story Collections

Short story collections, I have always found, are a hard sell. Unless your name is Stephen King, those seem to circulate well. In theory, it seems like short stories are a good idea of reluctant readers, and a great way to try and find a new author. But nope, a hard sell.

But occasionally, there are books that aren’t true short stories, but a collection of short stories that are connected in some way, usually by a reoccurring device or character. For today’s Something Old, Something New feature, I have a couple of those for you.

Something Old: Whirligig by Paul Fleischman

Brent Bishop is a 17-year-old boy who has just been involved in a terrible accident which results in the death of a girl named Lea. The truth is, he was trying to kill himself, but instead Lea is dead. Lea’s mother asks Brent to drive to four different locations and place a whirligig there in Lea’s honor. What comes next is 4 short stories about the various characters who find the whirligigs:

  • Weeksboro: Two 13-year old girls named Steph and Alexandra.
  • Bellevue: A 10-year old Korean-American boy named Tony.
  • Miami: A Puerto Rican man called Flaco.
  • San Diego: A 16-year old girl named Jenny. (from Wikipedia)

Whirligig was released in 1998, making it 16 years old now. At the time that this came out, I had been a YA librarian roughly 5 years. It was a fairly interesting story, though definitely not a big shelf mover. Fleischman is a classic YA author and new YA readers may want to check out some of his earlier works.

Something New: Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

This is the story of 5 strangers and they are all connected by one of them: Leila. Leila is driving across the country trying to get to Canada to see the Northern Lights. She is the part that connects all these stories together.

First, she meets Hudson, a small town boy who works at his dad’s garage. When Leila’s car is in need of repair she pulls in and steals Hudson’s heart. The two go on a wild adventure that has some serious consequences for Hudson.

Leila then meets Bree, a teen who is running away from home who believes in the idea of Seizing Tuesday. Bree and Leila wind up in jail and the only way they have out is for Bree to call someone that she isn’t even sure will help her because of the way their relationship ended.

Further down the road, Leila meets Elliot who has just confessed his undying love to his childhood friend. Despite his desire for a movie ending, things did not go exactly as planned. But Leila encourages him to keep trying in a night that taps into a wide variety of movie cliches.

Sonia is picked up by Leila as she is fleeing a complicated romantic situation. They end up on the wrong side of the Canadian border as the man that she just left calls and tells her that she needs to bring his jacket back because it has something important inside which he needs ASAP. Now they must try and find a way to get back across the border and they have a limited amount of time to do so.

And then finally, we get Leila’s story. Why is she driving to Canada to see those Northern Lights? That is the 10,000 question. And the answer was actually kind of interesting. But of course, I’m not going to tell you here.

Let’s Get Lost has been getting good reviews and I did enjoy it. I particularly liked Elliott’s story which is in ways reminiscent of the classic 80s movie Adventures in Babysitting. One of the thing I liked most about this particular story is that Alsaid manages to make a character that references a lot of 80s movies – something I see a lot of in YA lit – but has the character explain why exactly he has all these references for a time period that he should know very little about because he wasn’t alive then. And the answer, of course, is his parents who are apparently stuck in this era. He even still watches VHS tapes. This story pulled all the right heartstrings, added in some good chuckles, and has some of the gloriously triumphant movie moments that we all secretly wish would happen in real life.

Fans of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl will devour this book because Leila is the quintessential MPDG. She is giving, kind, immediately attractive to all, and manages to be the patient listening ear that gives those gentle hints of advice or asks just the right questions to fix everyone else’s problems. Leila is in fact the most unbelievable part of these stories, but most of the other characters are interesting enough to keep you reading. And when we get to Leila’s story, I thought it was interesting and revealing; it does in fact help put her quest into perspective.

If ever there was a book that belonged on the If You Like John Green list, this book is it. It has the quest, the voice, and the girl. It’s an entertaining read that is easy to devour and enjoy.

Both of these books would be good additions to a Road Trip themed booklist, display, or program/book discussion group.

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