YA and Literary Fiction affords readers the unique opportunity to time travel and view individuals grappling with growth-oriented struggles. This issue of Bookisshh explores three titles featuring younger people struggling with relationships, society large or small, and excess success squandered by immaturity. Witnessing these characters in motion, I realize, I wouldn’t go back if I could, and what I might have changed, pales in comparison to what I learn from life today and each day forward I’m lucky to live. Enjoy!
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
A FANtastic adaptation of the Cinderella story! Author, Ashley Poston utilizes quirky elements crafting, “Geekerella.” Elements include but are not limited to, El Pumpkin, a converted school bus now food truck selling vegan fried food, a green-haired, gay, modern fairy godmother/co-worker, white chicks/twin step-sisters serving up contemporary evil, a party-planning step-monster, and a quasi nerd-meets-Baywatch Prince Charming to name a few. There is truly something in this book for everyone.
Initially, the book reads like a ripoff of Fangirl, but deeper layers are unfolded as YA readers delve into the story of Danielle, “Elle,” and Darien: star-crossed young lovers who build their relationship unbeknownst to them via anonymous texting as result of a misdial. True to Cinderella form, our protagonist is miserable in her life. Her biological family is gone and she is in a nowhere job with no future prospects. Enter, Carmindor, aka Darien aka Prince Charming who finds respite in anonymous texting with Elle. Little does Elle know that Darien is the new pop icon and soon to be leading man in “Starfield.” While all these story threads dangle and blow, they become satisfyingly knotted up at “Excelsicon,” a cosplay convention for “Starfield” fans.
Poston is honest and ambitious in bring Cinderella to bring into the 21st century. Further, she pays an appropriate homage to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl but elevates the fanfiction world demonstrating how diversity exists there within and what a fine vehicle cosplay is for those looking for a sense of connection beyond their everyday. There are some structural challenges as Poston inserts text conversations between characters and as they gain familiarity with one another the identity of the speaker is noted for the reader, but it takes too long for readers to identify speakers. Overall, social media, blogs, texts, and the viral nature of staged flubs, PR campaigns, and GIFs are activated bringing that mashed up type of experience which YA readers today enjoy.
As an added benefit, Geekerella offers readers something missing in the conventional and adapted versions of “Cinderella” which is the moment when Elle reads out and rages at her step-monster, Catherine. Elle’s diatribe is well done and demonstrates how women today prefer not to take any mess and will have their say regarding that. This is definitely a good read for a more feministic approach to Cinderella, though Geekerella uses more scrappiness, inner confidence and real people over fantasy actors to manifest their dreams which aren’t necessarily happily ever after, but rather happier next and maybe for a little while. An idea sustainable or our ever expanding young adults.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
I have a friend whose parents immigrated from Belize to Evanston, Illinois during the 1980s. If you passed her by on the street, you might think Adrianne is just some black girl growing up in Evanston back then. Her classmates thought so too, but Adrienne’s world was so much different than her skin colored brothers and sisters who didn’t eat gorgeous Caribbean food or speak Creole or Spanish. Adrianne felt like the presumptions of the American story and the black experience would forever define her life. In American Street by Ibi Zoboi, main character, Fabiola Toussaint suffers the same story only her struggle includes a crumbling community, poverty, gang and drug lords and a family who have abandoned their cultural roots during the span of one generation.
Fabiola aka Fabulous lives with her Aunt and 3 cousins aka The Three Bees who together are the biggest threat to all the girls in their community. Fabiola believes it ends there but these girls go to extreme lengths to sustain their family and home as their mother is fading from authority and their father, long since gone, died in an accidental shooting.
Zoboi braids together Vodou traditions as Fabiola employs them to call upon spiritual guides to show her the best course of action to take. Readers observe the use of altars and the Creole system of saints, who in their folkloric capacity, help Fabiola remain focused and strong while sifting through bad guys and right choices. Fabiola’s closer connection to her cultural roots enhance her sense of instinct and identity which she so desperately requires as she dodges drug dealers, domestic violence, substance abuse and the terrible karma haunting the corner of American and Joy Streets. This book manages to express the raw beauty of decaying Detroit and falling families. It is fast paced, with a few loose threads but it is an honest, well told story.
Startup by Doree Shafrir
If you’re App or platform centric, then this book is for you. Startup by Doree Shafrir is an ambitious work lightly challenging some of the heavier issues of what she charges as the New Gilded Age. Shafrir certainly makes the case for, “All that glitters is not gold…” Startup, employing third person narration follows the lives five characters working in and around the tech industry in New York City who quickly discover that fun and games on the job are mere floaty toys in the shark filled ocean of venture capitalism.
Startup offers readers a unique opportunity to participate in the Lingua Franca fostered and utilized by today’s techies and artfully weaves this language into the narrative. Readers observe how coders create algorithms which gather information using sentiment based keywords and emojis to detect and anticipate a user’s mood and/or need for elevation and redirection. This is the impetus for TakeOff, the featured App in Shafrir’s tale. Policing TakeOff is TechScene a tabloid-esque news agency reporting, researching, updating sans retracting, that is hungry for the dominant market share in tech news.
Enter the characters… In terms of narrative power the girls outweigh the boys here while the double standards for women and men, young and old plague them all. Startup is unselfconsciously ageist which is demonstrated by the collection of characters under 30 playing around in the grownup world of work and responsibility. Isabel, white, wealthy, talented without seeking potential, is living well, looking good and sleeping with her boss. Katya, first generation, Russian, New Yorker, platinum blonde, incessant smoker, unique angler is grappling with adding depth to her journalism. Sabrina, 40s, Korean, married, mothering, embodiment of being unmemorable, juggles with her own geriatric, low, glass ceiling. Fewer in number and whiter in skin, the boys take a beating as non-committal, waning, horny toads, filling their plates while digesting more than their share. William, “Mack” McAllister, white, narcissist, dandy, figure head for TakeOff spends more time in front of the product than behind it is struggling with his stake hold in an expanding market. Dan, withering at 39, frustrated by Twitter’s destruction of print journalism, juggles mid-life crisis, while male hate, with the next big story to break the internet. Readers flip through the chapters setting the scene for the changing work place, the gross need to extend childhood, feminism’s rebirth via sexual harassment cases and statistical employment imbalances, affairs and non-affairs all while incubators team with coders making translating ideas into math all to fetishize happiness and productivity (quoting the author here). Shadow lessons are provided via @invisibletechman and Jason who has mastered the dark arts of media manipulation. These persona non grata enter the story and sharpen the shredder of sanctuary triggering big brother complexes and dark horse takeovers. They are compelling presences who dim the lights and volume of this party of the New Gilded Age, where onesies are work wear, snacks are fast and plentiful, and nerf guns at ready employee disposal
In Startup premise is definitely at work, however, it reads like a debut novel in that characters are loosely developed and a lot of product mention replaces patient description. In addition, while the conclusion is somewhat open-ended, it reads like an opening toast with a bottom line soured by defeat. The plot, unfolds efficiently as one event ripples through and is translated by the lives of characters leading to the idea that we must all grow up some day and it is often our misfortunate mistakes that point to this idea. My takeaway, is to depend less on Apps and technology, to covet my commodified privacy, and teach my kids to keep their hands and their data to themselves.