YA Corner: Books About Couples

The blush pink roses and white anemones are hanging upside down. No longer intoxicatingly fragrant, yet they retain their perfect form. Tempting packages of Lemon Crinkles, Old Fashioned Molasses Snaps and Dark Chocolate Truffles snuggle side by side — a happy surplus! Gracious exclamations and looping words of love are pinned to the wall. Towers of towels on the piano, piles of Pyrex and pillows, a small mountain of measuring cups, spoons, kitchenware and appliances sit, sorted in splendor. The vintage lace-covered gown hangs from a stair railing, looking nearly animated. Bright with hope and promise, the newly formed family of two sit together laughing, telling stories of just-made memories. We, the older family, bask in their warmth and laugh with them.

It took a gargantuan effort to pull everything together, but the wedding was everything we dreamed of, wildly chaotic and punctuated with unexpected pleasures. Thankful, we are oh-so-thankful for family and friends who gave their best to help us. The forward momentum of wedding focus is still ingrained in my mind, though I know it’s over and finished. I continue to have little relapses, like hearing a great jazz tune and thinking to myself “Wow, that would be perfect for the background music playlist. Wait, I don’t have to do that anymore.” The energy will return, I think, for everyday sorts of living and I will feel sad.

In honor of the first wedding to take place among my children, and in honor of that happy couple, here is a short list of recently read, notable Young Adult books about couples.

Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl is the fictionalized tale of Emily Dickinson and a mysterious stranger. The author completely captivated my heart on the first page. Her insightful treatment of the American poetess was intriguing throughout the book. The setting and some of the characters are historically accurate, so the reader gets educated in addition to having a great read. This recent YA release (which would appeal to a wider range of readers) deserves much more attention.  The author’s gift for portraying Emily Dickinson as a full character — a lively and smart young woman — is very satisfying.  Miss Dickinson is thrown not only into a romance but a murder mystery as well.  The unraveling of the mystery is well-paced and delightfully unpredictable.  I particularly loved the use of Dickinson’s poetry throughout because I adore her work. Not only that but I find her to be a fascinating person. What fun to peer at a young adult version of Emily Dickinson!   The historical end notes caused me to continue on, reading the recommended biographies of this fascinating American poet.

Cathy Ostlere is the author of Karma.  Booklist gave it a starred review and it is designated as a Best Book of 2011.  It was also chosen as a Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers Choice Award title (Senior Division) for 2014.  This book is something special and out of the ordinary.  What makes it so unique is the author’s use of free verse and the voicing of characters, sometimes speaking to each other and sometimes just an explosion of feeling and emotions.  It is poetry and it is beautiful.  It also contains a plot and a journey within the plot.  Set partially in Winnipeg, Canada but mostly in India.  The year is 1984.  It is the story of a Hindu woman and Sikh man who marry and have a child despite their inability to tolerate the other’s religious views.  It was hoped that by leaving both families and living in Canada their love could overcome all the odds against them.  Sadly the marriage deteriorates to a horrific situation.  The father and his teenage daughter then make a pilgrimage of sorts back to India.  India is both exotic and vibrant and at the same time frightening and shocking.  `The journey to India is ill-fated as the father and daughter arrive just before Indira Ghandi is assassinated which causes an eruption of violent religious riots.  Maya (only 15 years old) is separated from her father during the rioting.  She is befriended by a young Indian boy.  They grow to care for one another in friendship and love.  National Public Radio called it “epic and almost surreal in scope.”  A very worthwhile read!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  Henry and Keiko are living in Seattle as World War II unfolds.  Henry is Chinese American and Keiko is Japanese American.  They meet at school where they are the only Asian students.  They are there on scholarship and work together in the lunchroom.  As the tensions and prejudice begin to escalate they begin to fall in love.  Intolerance appears in unexpected places.  For instance, the Chinese Americans look down upon and try to avoid the Japanese.  Tolerance and even protection also come from unexpected sources.  The author switches back and forth between the 1940′s and a more contemporary setting (1986.)  It is based on a historically accurate setting and accounts of many thousands of Japanese American who were relocated from Seattle.  The author explains, “I did my best to re-create this historic landscape, without judging the good or bad intentions of those involved at the time.”  I found this book hard to put down.  It was mesmerizing, tender, and astonishing.  It is one very fine work.  Easily one of the best books I have read.  Perhaps that is why it was chosen for World Book Night U.S., April 23, 2014.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell received the designation of 2014 Michael Printz Honor Book for excellence in Young Adult Literature.   I had heard about this book at least half a dozen times in various library-type publications.  I had no intention of reading it myself.  I feared it would be one of those cliche YA romances that portray affection and love relationships as shallow and self-gratifying. There seems to be a certain amount of polarity in the way love/infatuation is portrayed in YA fiction.  On one hand relationships are sometimes seen as easy come/easy go situations.  Then on the other hand are the relationships that are so fantastical and out there (i.e.vampires, witches, zombies…) it is hard to find something to hold up to one’s actual life and find comparison. Often the YA text purposely seems to want to prove to the reader that this is not “children’s literature” by using excess of grimy language and unnecessary sexuality.   So I am sometimes woefully disappointed when trying to recommend a YA romance.  (It impresses me to no end the way Jane Austen’s characters and their relationships are still relevant.) But back to this book.  Set in the 80’s, Eleanor has just come back from a bad foster family experience to reunite with her mother, step-father, and younger siblings. It’s a dysfunctional situation at best.  The family has moved to a tiny and bleak house, which means Eleanor must adjust to a new school.  The school situation rings so true to what I remember of high school in the 80’s. Things I would rather not remember.  The language of particular characters on the school bus and otherwise holds nothing back.  Eleanor’s unusual style of dressing and her wild curly red hair make her a target for the bullies on the bus.  Just when she is about to be devoured one humane action changes the course of her life.  Her unexpected friendship with Park is refreshingly different than the reader might expect.  Park’s family is a dramatic contrast to Eleanor’s.  This books addresses the topics of poverty, bullying, abuse as well as courage and love.  Rainbow Rowell delivers a really gripping tale in which the reader comes away feeling love and hope can and do exist, even in the worst of situations.

About Becca Hyde

Becca Hyde began a career as children's librarian right after graduating college. She was also a grade school teacher for a couple of years simultaneously. After many years of choosing to stay home with her children, she is back working at Marshall Public Library as the Early childhood Librarian. Which is a delight! Becca also continues to be choir accompanist at Pocatello High School. She lives on a hillside with her husband, Joe, children and several wandering herds of deer and a moose or two.
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8 Responses to YA Corner: Books About Couples

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    I agree that there often seems to be a lot of unreality in YA stories about romantic relationships (at least those I’ve read), whether on the gritty extreme or in other ways. My own pet peeve is less the deliberately over-the-top grittiness (though that’s a problem too) than the ones where neither the girls nor the guys seem to have any life outside their romantic relationships. Or the ones where sexual attraction is everything, and just being friends doesn’t even show up.

    I know that Jamie Ford is LDS. Are any of these other authors LDS as well?

  2. Wm says:

    I find the description of Nobody’s Secret intriguing. Who is the couple in the book? Is it Emily Dickinson and the mysterious stranger?

    • Becca Hyde says:

      Yes, it most certainly is! Sorry I am slow responding. I hope you get to read the book. If you do I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

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