Monday, November 30, 2009

Double Review: Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger and Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Found via: BBYA 2010 nominations

Oh man, it's been a crazy week out here. The weekend before Thanksgiving I was in Chicago with my mom, and then I spent Thanksgiving weekend with my in-laws in Florida, meaning there was lots of traveling, and LOTS of reading, but little time to blog! Thankfully, my reading list made my blogging a little easier for me by happening to have thematically similar books, like these two stories of how 9/11 affected high school students.

In Shine, Coconut Moon, Sam is an Indian-American teenager living in a relatively diverse community in New Jersey. For most of her life, she's put the emphasis on the "American" in her heritage, as her mother has kept her away from her very traditional Sikh grandparents. Instead, Sam spends most of her time with her best friend, Molly, and wondering when she'll lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Mike.

The weekend after 9/11, Sam is surprised to find a man in a turban at her front door. He says he's her uncle Sandeep, her mother's brother, and after his tumultuous divorce he wants to be part of Sam's and her mother's lives again. Sam is eager to get to know her uncle, and pressures him to teach her everything about her Sikh heritage, despite her mother's reservations and outright objections to Sam having anything to do with Sikh culture. As she grows more aware of her cultural heritage, she realizes just how different she is in some ways from her friends and community - but also learns to recognize what is truly important in life.

Love is the Higher Law takes place in New York City in the immediate after math of 9/11. The narrative jumps between three characters - Claire and Peter, who attend high school together, and Jaspar, the college guy Peter had scheduled a date with for the evening of 9/11. Alternating chapters explore the three characters and what it's like for them to live in post-9/11 New York City: Jaspar was sleeping late and actually missed the early TV coverage - and his parents were temporarily stranded in South Korea, where they'd been visiting Jaspar's grandmother; Claire spent 9/11 in her brother's elementary school, keeping him and his classmates calm while waiting for their mother to find them; Peter was skipping school to buy a new CD when an employee tells him the news. In the days, weeks and months after, each of them tries to understand how they fit into this new world they've been thrust in to.

I realized with a start about half way through Love is the Higher Law that for the first time in several years, I was reading a book about my peers. As an adult reading YA lit, I'm used to reading about characters who are about 10 years younger than I am, and in both of these books the protagonists are in the 17-19 years old age range - but back on September 11th, 2001, I was just a couple of months shy of my 17th birthday myself. I kind of found myself wondering what the characters were doing "now," in their mid-twenties, almost a decade later. It also made me wonder how today's crop of teenagers react to these books, since they were in elementary school in 2001.

Shine, Coconut Moon also had moments of familiarity for me - I remember reading this article in my hometown paper shortly after 9/11, about a Sikh family posting signs explaining their religion in the windows of their store, in order to prevent any attacks against them.

Shine, Coconut Moon and Love is the Higher Law are both excellent titles showing the wide variety of ways teenagers reacted after 9/11.
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