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Book Review: Feral Youth edited by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description

ra6Ten teens are left alone in the wilderness during a three-day survival test in this multi-authored novel edited by award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

At Zeppelin Bend, an outdoor-education program designed to teach troubled youth the value of hard work, cooperation, and compassion, ten teens are left alone in the wild. The teens are a diverse group who come all walks of life, and were all sent to Zeppelin Bend as a last chance to get them to turn their lives around. They’ve just spent nearly two weeks hiking, working, learning to survive in the wilderness, and now their instructors have dropped them off eighteen miles from camp with no food, no water, and only their packs, and they’ll have to struggle to overcome their vast differences if they hope to survive.

Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, the characters in Feral Youth, each complex and damaged in their own ways, are enticed to tell a story (or two) with the promise of a cash prize. The stories range from noir-inspired revenge tales to mythological stories of fierce heroines and angry gods. And while few of the stories are claimed to be based in truth, they ultimately reveal more about the teller than the truth ever could.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

feralFirst things first: the stories in this book are written by Shaun David Hutchinson, Suzanne Young, Marieke Nijkamp, Robin Talley, Stephanie Kuehn, E. C. Myers, Tim Floreen, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Brandy Colbert.

 

Great lineup, right?

 

Zeppelin Bend camp, in Wyoming, is the last chance these characters have to turn their lives around. They’re all there for the trouble they landed themselves in. But as they each reveal their story (or parts of their stories, or dance around their stories), readers come to understand that the characters are (of course) more than just their alleged crimes and that they made the choices they did for very complicated reasons. The stories cover a lot of ground: arson, rape, bullying, revenge, theft, drugs, dress codes, runaways, fairy tales, mythology, other worlds, paranormal activity, ghosts, horror, and more. Some of the stories come in bits and pieces. It’s hard to tell what’s the whole story, if the narrators can be trusted, and who might by lying. But the one thing all these stories do is show the characters to be multifaceted people. At one point, Lucinda notes, “Our parents see us as these problems to solve, delinquents to deal with. But we’re more than that.” But, as another character points out, none of that really matters is if all people can see is what they’ve done. And, is what they’ve done really who they are? Does it define them, shape them, change them? And, even if they’re together at camp, and now together for three days as they wander the woods and share their stories, do they still really know each other? Or can you never really know someone? If nothing else, telling their stories gives them some sense of controlling the narrative about them, of being seen and heard, if only for a little bit by a few people.

 

I really enjoy this multi-author format (like Hutchinson did with VIOLENT ENDS, too). It’s such a smart way to tell a story with a wide cast of characters, one that really benefits from the variety of voices, writing styles, and diversity of identities that the authors bring. This is an easy recommendation, especially for reluctant readers, who may be drawn to the attention-grabbing format and that fast narrative pace. A great choice, too, for those who enjoy unreliable narrators. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481491112

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 09/05/2017

Book Review: Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

Publisher’s description

rebelThe Rebel: Once popular, Andi is now a dreadlocked and tattooed wild child.
The Bully: Sick of being the less favorite son, York bullies everyone, especially his brother.
The Geek: Boston, York’s brother, and obsessed with getting into an Ivy League school.
The Pariah: Sam, now that her mom is sober, she just wants to get through one day at a time.

Andi, Sam, York, and Boston find themselves in the woods together when a party gets busted by the cops. Trying to run rather than get caught, they hop into the nearest car they see and take off . . . until they realize the car they’ve taken has a trunk is full of stolen drugs. Now they must rely on each other or risk their lives. Should they run or turn themselves in? Would anyone even believe the drugs aren’t theirs? Every decision could determine the rest of their lives . . . but how can any of them trust people they barely know.

In a cinematic, heart-pounding race against time, four teens learn more about one other in a few hours than they ever knew in all the years they attended school together. And what they find out isn’t at all what any of them expected . . .

 

Amanda’s thoughts

The story starts at the end: Sam is visiting with her mother in jail. Sam’s mom, a drug addict, has spent significant time in both jail and prison. We quickly learn bits and pieces of the story—Sam’s mom could’ve been a big country music star, but addiction stole that dream from her. Sam makes oblique references to an accident and the resulting scars all over her head. When Sam pursues Andi, a good girl gone “bad” who steals the violin Sam is hoping to buy back from the pawn shop, she has no idea what she’s in for.

 

The publisher’s description sums up the plot pretty well. Andi and Sam end up at a party in the woods, where they encounter brothers York and Boston. When cops bust the party, the foursome decide to hide. They witness something shady going on with some police down by the dock. They’re not really sure what they’ve witnessed, actually, but they do know that getting out of the woods is priority number one. They steal the SUV by the dock, accidentally hit a police officer with it, are shot at by someone—the good cops or the potentially crooked cops, who knows—and flee. Panicking, Boston and York direct them to a rural cabin, where maybe they can write up a statement of how this big misunderstanding happened and clear this up. Add in a million dollars worth of heroin in the SUV, someone pursuing them, and the fact that everyone but Sam is now wanted for questioning, and you’ve got quite a mess. They’re not sure who might be on the good side or the bad side in this nightmare that’s just getting worse at every turn.

 

Short chapters labeled “before” fill in details of all four main characters’ lives, but also interrupt the pacing and the suspense. The four teens spend most of the book being pursued and without a whole lot of resources to save themselves. We sometimes spend a bit too much time inside Sam’s head, which slows the story down, but overall it’s a fast-paced adventure. Though the four initially don’t appear to have much in common or even hardly know each other (with the exception of the two brothers), they reveal a lot about their lives, pressures, expectations, and disappointments as they try to untangle the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. It is also a revealing look at addiction and what it’s like to live with a parent who’s a drug addict. Lange really ups the tension and the action in the last few chapters, and a twist to the story will make readers reevaluate what they thought was going on. This quick read will appeal to readers who like action and adventure, and don’t mind if the story sometimes lags or feels a little implausible. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781619634985

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Publication date: 02/16/2016