Sarah Henstra – The Red Word

Sarah Henstra – The Red Word

For a conference, Karen returns to the town she attended college many years before. It is not a pleasant return since the place is connected to sad memories. Going back there brings it all again to her mind. Her roommates, nice girls at first, whose plan got completely wrong. Her then boy-friend and his fraternity GBC who always treated her nicely but also had another, darker side. The teacher they all admired in their gender studies classes. And the scandal that shock the whole town.

Sarah Henstra’s novel tells different tales with only one story. First of all, we have the strong protagonist Karen who as a Canadian always stands a bit outside her fellow students’ circles. She doesn’t have the same background; neither does she have the rich parents who provide her with all she needs not does she come with the intellectual package that most of the others seem to possess. The need to earn money to support herself keeps her from leading the same life as they do. This also brings her into the special situation between the groups who soon find themselves at war.

The central topic, however, is how college students deal with sex. On the one hand, we have the partying during which much alcohol and all kinds of drugs are consumed which makes the young people reckless and careless. On the other hand, we have the planned drugging of young women with Rohypnol to abused them. There is a third perspective, represented by the academic intelligentsia: the classic image of the woman as victim, portrayed in history and literature throughout the centuries and which did not change in more than two thousand years.

“The Red Word” could hardly be more relevant and up-to-date in the discussions we have seen all over the word about male dominance and indiscriminate abuse of their stronger position. Sarah Henstra does not just foreshadow what happens at the student houses, she openly talks about the rape that happens there. And she does provide a credible picture of what happens afterwards, of how women are accused of having contributed or even asked for it, of lame excuses for the male behaviour and of the psychological effect these experiences have on the students – both, male and female. It is not just black and white, there are many shadows and motives behind their actions, Henstra integrates them convincingly.

A felicitous novel with a very important story to tell.


Kim Fu – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

Kim Fu – The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

A summer camp for young girls aged nine to twelve. Mostly rich, but there are also some poor ones granted scholarships so that they can take part, too. The rules have been the same over decades, everything in Camp Forevermore is as it has always been. Part of the camp experience is a kayak tour which the girls complete in small groups and which leaves them on isolated islands for a night. Siobhan, Nita, Andee, Isabel and Dina thus are assigned to the oldest and toughest camp supervisor. Yet, unexpectedly, the girls do not end in the spot they were destined to but find themselves on a different, much larger and completely isolated island, their chaperone dead and they themselves running out of food. Now, the real survival lesson begins.

The idea of a bunch of girls having to face raw nature and survive in unknown territory sounded quite intriguing to me. I anticipated it to be a bit like a girl version of the “Lord of the Flies” and I was curious to read how a group of girls develops under those conditions. Yet, the story of the lost girls is just a part of the novel. Their adventure is broken up by narrations about what happens to the girls later in life, their fate after surviving Camp Forevermore. This not only came a bit unexpected, but also shifted the focus away from the actual story to what such an experience makes with people and how they can never really get over it.

Kim Fu has a very lively style of writing. The characters seem authentic and you quickly get a good idea of their different personalities. I liked her writing most in the parts where the girls struggle to survive, she is great at portraying their fears, hate and desperation. Without any question, the girls’ later lives are also interesting and the author actually did a great job in developing the girls further as adults. However, I would have preferred to read more about Camp Forevermore and the girls desperate situation.

Richard Lawson – All we can do is wait

Richard Lawson – All we can do is wait

An awful accident brings a bunch of teenager together in the waiting area of a hospital: a Boston bridge collapsed during busy traffic and now they are waiting for news. Scott is afraid that his girlfriend Aimee might be amongst the dead. Skyler was on the telephone with her sister when Kate suddenly broke away. Jason and Alex fear the worst about their parents who were on the way to Alexa’s school. And Morgan already knows that her father is not alive anymore. While they are condemned to wait in the sterile area without any information, they all recall the last couple of months, what they went through with the loved ones, the good sides and the bad ones. But sharing this feeling of utmost anxiety also brings out things which were long buried and in the morning, they are not the same anymore.

“All we can do is wait” has the classic drama setting: all characters in one place, waiting for the moment when they are either relieved or their biggest fear is confirmed. There is nothing they can do to change the situation, they have to sit and wait for the verdict. No matter what they wish or pray for, their fate is already sealed but they do not know about it.

Richard Lawson makes his young protagonists alternate in the narration. Each chapter is dedicated to one of them and slowly their lives unfold. Thus, we are not constantly in the situation of extreme stress in the waiting room, but look back also on happy moments full of joy and love. But the sword of Damocles of looming over them all the time and inevitable we return to the hospital.

The story is full of emotion, positive and negative ones, and the author created authentic and lovable characters who are credible in their fears and hopes. They already show whom they are going to be in a couple of years and yet, they are still adolescents with great hopes and wishes. Apart from this, there is obviously a lot of suspense because you just want to know what happened to their friends, sister and parents. This just makes you read on and on and on. I really loved the novel even though it is a rather melancholy story that is told.

Robin Wasserman – Girls on Fire

Robin Wasserman – Girls on Fire

Hannah Dexters Leben ist ereignislos, wenn man es positiv ausdrücken möchte. Langweilig, wenn man es realistisch betrachtet. Sie hat keine wirklichen Freunde und wird weitgehend ignoriert. Das ist nicht schlecht, denn so vermeidet man auch alles, was einen verletzten oder später im Leben schaden kann. Nachdem ein Mitschüler sich das Leben genommen hat, sucht Lacey Champlain Kontakt zu ihr. Die neue, wilde Mitschülerin, von der man noch nichts weiß, obwohl sie schon seit Monaten in dieselbe Klasse geht. Die beiden Mädchen könnten kaum verschiedener sein: Hannah das brave, wohlerzogene Mädchen, Lacey äußerlich wie innerlich rebellisch. Lacey zeigt Hannah, wie sie auch sein kann, bringt ihr Musik nahe, vor allem Nirvana, und trinkt zum ersten Mal mit ihr. Langsam wird auch dem gehorsamen Teenager ein eine aufsässige junge Frau, die in einen Strudel von Lügen und Betrug gerät, ohne es zu merken. Das Mädchen wird zum Spielball und für hinterhältige Zwecke missbraucht. Aber ist es wirklich Lacey, die hinter allem steckt?

Robin Wasserman hat ihren Roman in die Anfänge der 1990er verlegt und den Ursprüngen des Grunge und der aufstrebenden Band Nirvana so ein kleines Denkmal gesetzt. Ihr Roman ist bezogen auf das Genre nicht ganz einfach einzuordnen, einerseits geht es um zwei Mädchen, die langsam erwachsen werden – mit allen schönen und hässlichen Seiten, da liegt Young Adult nahe. Gleichzeitig schildert sie aber auch sehr drastisch psychologische „Kriegsführung“, emotionaler Missbrauch und Gewalt, was nicht wirklich für Jugendliche geeignet ist. Ein interessanter Genremix, der sich am Ende zu einem wahrhaftigen Psychothriller entwickelt.

Die beiden Protagonistinnen sind glaubwürdig gezeichnet und könnten verschiedener kaum sein, was von Beginn an die Frage aufwirft, was sie verbindet. Das Band wird erst ganz zum Ende sichtbar, zwar deutet sich einiges an, aber clever wird immer wieder eine leichte Variante erzählt, andere Aspekte kommen hinzu und indem Robin Wasserman die beiden im Wechsel erzählen lässt – immer wieder kurz unterbrochen von Einwürfen anderer Figuren – dauert es, bis man als Leser durchschaut, welches Spiel gespielt wird und welche Koalitionen sich im Hintergrund bzw. vor der eigentlichen Handlung gebildet hatten. Vor allem die psychologischen Aspekte, die Motive und die erkennbaren Störungen der Mädchen sind der Autorin glaubwürdig gelungen.

Ein spannendes Buch über ausgesprochen destruktive Figuren, spannend geschrieben und mit einer cleveren Handlungsführung, die die amerikanische Provinz zum Tatort hinterhältigster Verbrechen macht.


Marieke Nijkamp – Before I let go

Marieke Nijkamp – Before I let Go

For sixteen years, Corey and Kyra have been friends. Together they roamed the forests of Lost Creek, Alaska, went to school together and spent their free time together. Then, six months ago, Corey moved away with her mother and younger brother and left Kyra alone. Alone in a town who hated the girl because she was different. Her maniac-depressive behaviour irritated the 250 inhabitants of the small city; she was at best invisible, at worst an outsider. Two days before Corey is due to visit, Kyra is found dead. Beneath the ice of a lake in mid-winter. For Corey this is not only a shock, but unbelievable. Kyra cannot be dead and she would never have killed herself so shortly before her arrival. Her suspicion grows the closer she comes to her former hometown and finally there, she is not greeted with unanimous joy.

Marieke Nijkamp’s novel is set against the Alaskan winter which perfectly reflects the mood of the novel. The atmosphere is gloomy and often spooky throughout the story and at times it actually gave me the creeps. It is a wonderful merge of a young adult novel and a thriller.

Yet, first of all, it is a novel about friendship. Corey remembers her time with Kyra, the good ones and the bad ones and she is ruminating about the question if she has left her friend, left her alone with the ill-natured people of Lost Creek who resented her with her escapades. Could she have prevented a possible suicide or even murder of her friend? A tough question for a sixteen-year-old girl alone and face to face with a whole hostile town.

On the other hand, it is a novel about life in a reclusive community who considers people who moved away outsiders after only a short time and who are hard to anybody who does not fit in their world-view. Where people do not talk much to somebody who does not belong to the inner circle. And a community who lives to its own laws and values. After only a couple of months, Corey does not understand them anymore, does not recognise the people she once loved anymore.

Looming above all this is the question what happened to Kyra. Did she really change after Corey left? Did the people actually change in the last couple of weeks? Or is this just the story Corey is told to hide the truth.

The author has a great talent in making you feel with the protagonist, I experienced this when I read her novel “This is where it ends” about a school shooting, too. “Before I let go” is a quick read that I enjoyed a lot.

Steve Schafer – The Border

Steve Schafer – The Border

It was meant to be the great celebration as it is a tradition in Mexico: Carmen’s 15th birthday, the so called quinceañera to which many friends of the family were invited. But then suddenly shouting and gunshots. Just a couple of minutes later, almost all guests are dead, shot in the head. Only the teenagers Pato and Arbo, best friends since they were born, and the siblings Marcos and Gladys have survived because they had gone outside and could hide in the backyard. Then they are seen and they have to run. In Mexico under to law of rivalling gangs no one can escape their verdict. They must go north, to the USA, take the hard route through the desert without money, without knowing how. An old friend of Pato’s father helps them at first, and hides them for a couple of days, but the gangs are after them and soon the four lost souls find themselves out in the blazing sun without water or orientation.

Steve Schafer’s novel narrates a story we mainly know from the news: Mexico, a country in which the governmental institutions are powerless against the well-organised gangs who rule not only the drug market but also the human trafficking business. It is with them you have to come to terms with and either you accept their rules or you find yourself shot dead. The story thus seems to be quite authentic and especially the people’s fear which is omnipresent throughout the plot gives a good impression of what life is like there.

In the centre, we have two main aspects. The first is the illegal transgression of the northern border. It is not only the danger of being caught by the border patrol – neither on the Mexican nor on the US side this is something you can with for. It is also the dangerous and often fatal route through the desert. During daytime, the sun is burning hot and since you cannot carry as much water as you’d normally need, it is a tricky calculation if your supplies will suffice for your route. On the other hand, without a local guide, you are soon lost and erring around the sandy landscape. The four teenagers, too, make these experiences which more than once bring them close to death. Also the other refugees who pop out now and again tell the same story. Additionally, this is a market and again, you cannot just you what you want to without following the rules of the gangs.

The second and even more interesting aspect is the relationship between the four of them. For one thing, they are too young to know why their parents were shot. This question is looming over them, especially when Pato and Arbo come to realise that Marcos, who is a bit older, seems to know something. And when the two boys have to accept that their fathers’ business might not have been what they always thought it was and that they, too, might have made deals with the gangs, they have to adapt everything they ever believed in to this. Further, being threatened by death brings them closer together at times and more apart at others. They are on the edge with their nerves and often close to just giving up.

The author especially succeeds in the psychological portrayal of the characters under those extreme conditions. They are lively and never act like adults might in their place. They have a survival instinct but nevertheless stick to their teenage convictions shaped by the idea of friendship and mutual support. All in all, a young adult novel with the typical topics of the genre presented under the most awful conditions and written at a high pace which makes you read on.

Shannon McCrimmon – The Summer I Learned to Dive

Shannon McCrimmon – The Summer I Learned to Dive

Was sind die typischen Versatzstücke von Young Adult Romanen?

  1. die Protagonistin:

– sehr strebsam und intelligent

– sehr hübsch, ohne sich dessen bewusst zu sein

– lebt fernab der Realität und ist sich des Lebens eines Teenagers nicht bewusst

– keinerlei Erfahrung mit Alkohol, Jungs, Sex, Partys etc.

  1. Der Protagonist:

– schüchterner Junge, auf den alle Mädchen stehen, der aber auf „die Eine“ wartet

– makelloser Charakter

– würde nie Alkohol anrühren

– absolut selbstlos gegenüber seiner Familie

  1. die Handlung:

– Protagonistin kommt an fremden Ort, wo Protagonist lebt

– gerät zunächst an die falschen Freunde, Protagonist muss sie retten

– macht erste Erfahrungen im echten Leben, lernt: Alkohol ist böse

– durchlebt Familienkrise, Protagonist steht zu ihr

– Krise war eigentlich nur ein Missverständnis und wird so schnell erfolgreich gemeistert

– am Ende: alles Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen

Prüft man Shannon McCrimmons Roman „The Summer I Learned to Dive“ auf diese Punkte, erhält sie vollen Zuschlag. Die 18-jähige Finn erfährt zufällig von einem lange gehüteten Familiengeheimnis. Sie reist nachts heimlich ab, um ihre unbekannten Großeltern zu besuchen. Dort verliebt sie sich in den wunderbaren Jesse und erlebt im Schnelldurchlauf alles, was Teenager sonst in ein paar Jahren durchmachen. Gegen Ende noch großes Familiendrama, lange Aussprache, alles gut.

Da es ein amerikanischer Roman war noch die üblichen Moralpredigten: Alkohol ist böse, vergib Deinen Liebsten auch wenn sie dich jahrelang belogen haben, kein Sex im Teenagerroman.

Der Roman bietet wenig Überraschungen und ist so locker geschrieben, dass er sich entspannt an einem Nachmittag lesen lässt. Wie er zu 900 3-5 Sterne Bewertungen auf Goodreads kommt, bleibt für mich jedoch schleierhaft. Überbordende Lobeshymnen über das Buch, das so anders ist als all die anderen im Genre (?!?).

Berechtigte Frage: warum liest jemand ein YA Roman, wenn er das Genre offenbar doof findet? Kurz vorm Zubettgehen habe ich gestern einen neuen Roman benötigt und lustlos meinen Kindle nach etwas Leichtem und Sommertauglichen durchblättert. Das Cover war hübsch (und so passend zum Sommer) und wenn ich schon mal angefangen habe, lese ich ein Buch auch fertig, noch dazu wenn es so kurz ist. Fazit: manche Prinzipien sollte man vielleicht über Bord werfen.