Friday, September 18, 2009

Alive and Kicking - and Reading too

Well, I've gotten through the initial phase of recovering from surgery. Now comes the "how the hell did they let the house get this filthy?" phase of the recovery. It should be noted that the phase which immediately follows is "I'm sure I'm well enough to mop these bathroom floors." And then comes the "Wow, that kind of hurt, I think I need to lay down" phase. The concluding phase is "Think I'll just have a short nap," which leads to waking up three hours later and being very annoyed at one's dismal energy level.

So, not doing a lot of writing or promoting right now - just focusing on not napping too much if I can help it.

I did a lot of reading and watching of videos while recuperating. The two most memorable things I think I read are these books:

I seem to be a sucker for young adult fiction, which is what these are considered. Maybe it's a sign I'm immature.

Or maybe, like all the adults who rob their kids' bookshelves to read the Harry Potter or Twilight stories, I've discovered a startling truth -- young adult fiction doesn't seem nearly as hung up on strict category rules as does other fiction. There may or may not be a love story; there may or may not be a happy ending. You just don't know! The stories are not rigid with formulaic conventions -- but they are stories that tend to emphasize likable characters and careful plotting. Those are two things all too often missing from so-called "adult" literature, which sometimes seems to replace strong characterization with an unrealistically perfect kick-butt heroine or a whiney, self-pitying hero.

The very limitations of the YA genre help guarantee that the author -- in this case, veteran YA writer Susan Beth Pfeffer -- will focus on developing a strong story. She can't fill the pages of her book with graphically weird sex or lots of cussing. Well, she could, but parents wouldn't let their kids read it. So she has to focus on an original story instead.

AND WHAT AN ORIGINAL STORY these two books present! They are companion pieces, not sequels. The first, Life As We Knew It, is the bleak, heartending tale of a teenaged girl whose life goes all to hell when an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it into a dangerously low orbit. A moment that was going to be a nifty TV-viewing science event turns into a catastrophe of literally Biblical proportions. One natural disaster follows another in rapid succession and young Miranda is forced to mature early and find a way to keep herself and her family alive.

The companion books, the dead and the gone, tells the equally difficult story of Alex, a boy in New York City who is living through these same events. While Miranda's world view is that of a very materialistic suburban agnostic, Alex is the devoutly Catholic son of a Puerto Rican maintenance man, attending a prestigious Jesuit academy on scholarship. When the disaster hits, Alex and his family rely on the Church's existing hierarchy to bring them news and help them stay alive.

I suspect the upcoming third book will unite the two main characters and that their opposing points of view will lead to much flying of the ol' sparks. I'm also really hoping NASA gets some kind of big moon-booster rocket operational -- but maybe that will be Book Four.

Anyway, I loved these two books and recommend them to anyone of any age who has an appetite for apocalyptic sci-fi. I'll probably post a few more reviews in the next few weeks, as I try to get back on the ball with writing, promoting and life in general.