YA Fiction for Boys: Part One

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YA Fiction for Boys: Part One

Review of ‘Living with Jackie Chan’

My go to girl for YA is ALWAYS Trish Buckley. Her knowledge of YA fiction, both Australian and International is astonishing and she always manages to find my exactly the right book at exactly the right time. Last week she wrote me a post about the differences between Steampunk, sci fi and fantasy, as well as a review of ‘The Disappearance of Ember Crow’. This week she is presenting a week-long series of posts about YA books which feature teen boys at their very best. Trish is a high school teacher librarian at a Catholic boys college, the Vice President of the Qld Branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA), the CBCA National Web manager and a former Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) judge. She also blogs about YA fiction here. Thank you lovely lady!

Megan asks me often to write reviews about young adult novels for her wonderful blog. And I reply by saying, ‘but I am too busy reading!’ It’s a dilemma. But over the past three months, I have read five really excellent novels that each present a teenage boy dealing with an exceptionally difficult life, and yet, in each case, he is able to triumph over adversity. These victories happen through a number of different circumstances, but their stories have several similarities: the writing is crisp and fresh, the ‘voice’ is distinct and sympathetic, and the story is engaging and uplifting. So I thought I would write five posts, one a day for a week, highlighting these five texts – all quality writing, with boys we can hope to use to inspire our own boys to learn courage, resilience and humour.

living-with-jackie-chanI will start today with a book called Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles (published by Random House). Part of this review was posted at the ReadPlus website. Living with Jackie Chan is beautifully written with a very authentic portrayal of a teenage boy coming to grips with the harsh reality of his impulsive actions. Desperately keen to lose his ‘virgin status’, 17 year old Josh sleeps with Ellie, and of course she gets pregnant. All of this occurs in a book called Jumping off Swings, which I haven’t read. I don’t feel I missed much by diving straight into this one, although I would be interested in the end, which must have been a downer.

At the start of this book Josh is barely holding himself together. His anger and self-hatred are powerful. Josh cannot stand to stay in his home town after his irredeemable (in his eyes) behaviour, so he moves to his uncle’s apartment (a 4 hour drive) to finish his senior year and attempt to get into College. He is bitter about his seemingly uncaring parents, his party-boy best friends who were partly to blame for his actions and the hurt looks in Ellie’s eyes. It takes ages for Josh to really start to make peace with himself, and along the way he comes to know a group of people who help him.

Josh’s thoughts are full of snark and sarcasm. He tries to keep his anger contained, but that results in panic attacks, and it’s only when he is able to articulate his fears and guilt that he is able to move on and start forming positive relationships with people.  There’s a baby in the apartment upstairs who wakes every morning around 2 am, and Josh’s reaction to the child is unsettling and poignant. He also meets Stella who has a possessive and jealous boyfriend, and although he is attracted to her, keeping his distance is both safe and unthreatening.

But it is the Jackie Chan of the title who plays the most significant part in Josh’s journey. Uncle Larry is a zen, vegetarian karate master and keen meditator. His cheerful outlook on life, his determination to get Josh talking and participating (particularly in karate), and his patience and understanding is a joy to watch. Slowly, ever so slowly, Josh opens up, forgives himself and accepts his own parents for the flawed people they are.

The ending is both hopeful and realistic. Knowles has written about a damaged boy who knows he is responsible for his own behaviour and attempts to atone and redeem himself. It’s great to read a book where boys are portrayed as having sensitive feelings and yet, are still both masculine and strong.

In ‘Part Two’ I will move on to a book that defies convention and labels – Man made boy by Jon Skovron.

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YA Fiction for Boys

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