Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I Guess It's Just My Week To Be Grumbly About YA Lit

You Know Where To Find Me by Rachel Cohn

It almost causes me physical pain to speak ill of a Rachel Cohn book when it was her writing that sucked me in to the awesome renaissance of YA lit in the first place. Unfortunately, Cohn's You Know Where To Find Me is several steps down from thoughtful, funny, and unpredictable work like Gingerbread, The Steps, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

The book centers around Miles, better known as "8 Mile" at her predominantly African-American school -- "white trash with the wide load, capable of an occasional decent rap." Like many of Cohn's characters, Miles belongs to a non-traditional family, and this one is particularly complicated.

It begins with Jim, a middle-aged gay man who decides he wants to be a father, so he and his lover have a daughter through a surrogate. Then, the lover commits suicide, leaving Jim to raise Laura on his own. Shortly after this, the lover's twin sister shows up on Jim's doorstep with the infant Miles. Miles and Laura are raised together, almost like sisters, and the best of friends until Laura, like her biological father, commits suicide.

All of this takes place in the book's first chapter.

The rest of the book follows Miles as she contends with Laura's death, her feelings of inadequacy and ugliness, and also with her own burgeoning addiction to prescription drugs -- hydros, Perks, and Oxys, if it's a special occasion. She struggles with her weight, is considering dropping out of school before her senior year, and is in love with her best friend, though he's in love with someone else.

There's a lot going on here. Too much.

Add to that a subplot, conducted mainly through dialogue, involving Washington, D.C.'s mind-boggling electoral situation of taxation without representation. In her previous books, Cohn has occasionally thrown out a line or two that is clearly her, expressed through her characters. Here, she abandons all restraint and uses her characters to go off on tirades against religion, neo-con politics, the electoral process, and all manner of other things.

Let me be clear -- it's not Cohn's beliefs that offend me here, it's the clumsiness with which she instills them in her characters. It's incredibly jarring to read dialogue like the following coming out of a character's mouth:

"But he has, in fact, traded support on certain measures with several Maryland representatives in order to line up their recommendations for a retrocession measure to study whether D.C. could become part of Maryland. Retrocession would allow for a capital city around the Mall for the federal government, but extend Maryland's borders inside the District so that its citizens are granted the same state's rights -- and responsibilities -- as citizens in any other state."

It's not the fact that these words are coming out of a teenager's mouth that makes them unbelievable. It's that people don't talk like this unless they're the kind of people with jobs that require them to hire speech writers.

Again, I'm a fan of all of Cohn's other books, and would enthusiastically recommend them to anyone. But You Know Where to Find Me takes on too many themes, and addresses them sloppily.


Julie said...

Ha ha, my husband would love this. He teaches high school Civics, and he wishes teenagers would talk like that. :)

Juli said...

Hi! I'm visiting your blog for weekly geeks! Wanted to let you know I'm enjoying checking it out. I really enjoy YA but thanks to your review I'll probably steer clear of this one!