Monday, November 13, 2006
A Different YA Voice
Some kidlit people believe there is a YA voice and that it involves a first-person narrator. To me all this means is that a great many YA books seem to be narrated by the same few people. You've got your angst-ridden wiseass Holden Caulfield types for guys and your tough-cookie outsider types for girls. And variations on same.
Part of what is so marvelous about Pucker by Melanie Gideon is the voice of its seventeen-year-old narrator, Thomas Quicksilver. Or Thomas Gale. Or Pucker. His voice is both modestly wiseass and yet mature and sophisticated. He sounds like a teenager, but one who is self-aware instead of self-obsessed.
Thomas's maturity is probably due to the physical and psychic pain he has endured since he was disfigured in a fire when he was a child. That was back before he and his mother were exiled to Earth from Isaura, a "pocket of a world," a parallel reality. The exile thing was maturing, too.
Now his mother is dying, and he has to find his way back to Isaura in order to save her. He can't let the people there know he's back. Fortunately, he can hide himself among the handful of humans who pass into Isaura, humans with severe health problems who the Isaurans "change" in exchange for those humans becoming their permanent servants.
And so Thomas, who is known at his high school as Pucker because that is what the burn scars on his face do, gets the face he was meant to have. And it just happens to be beautiful. He will have to enjoy it as much as he can during the short time he'll be in Isaura hunting for what his mother needs, because when he returns to Earth he'll change back into a burn victim.
Now Thomas has women throwing themselves at him and men envying him. He recognizes what being beautiful is doing to him, he despises himself, but he continues anyway.
This book raises questions not just about beauty about about quality of life. Just how much will you sacrifice to be able to...get out of your wheelchair? Be separated safely from your conjoined twin? Be able to go out in the sunlight?
On top of all that, there's at least one powerful surprise toward the end.
The book does suffer from a few little illogical plotting moves. Doesn't anyone on Earth notice that critically ill humans are disappearing? Their families don't look for them? And a few Isaurans end up coming to the United States. How do they manage without birth certificates and social security numbers? How do they get into schools?
But don't let those details discourage you. Pucker is a joy to read.