Tuesday, June 07, 2011

And Now For Something Different

I've got to stop ranting for a while and do some Reader Responses. So here goes.

It seems as if I've been reading a lot of YA lately. My own local library purchases a lot of series books for younger readers, which don't attract me particularly, though I will have a post on a couple sometime in the future. So I've had to branch out a little in my book foraging. I found The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman by Ben H. Winters at another library I've started hitting occasionally. What caught my eye is that it's a contemporary, school-based book. No paranormal elements. Not a serial. No obvious signs of a sequel.

Really, it's a unique offering in today's children's literature climate.

The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman involves some kids discovering a fascinating secret about their very dull music teacher, Ms. Finkleman, and what that knowledge, once it gets around, leads to. The book uses a third-person narrator without a point of view character--the point of view shifts among characters. This is most unusual in children's literature today. The first-person dominates, and when the third person is used, only one charcter's inner workings is usually featured. That character is on stage all the time. The author manages his shifting point of view just fine, and it will be a bit of an eye opener for a lot of child readers.

Another interesting aspect regarding Ms. Finkleman: It's a book with rock elements, but those elements work much better here than I've seen them in other children's/YA books. I've read a number of YA books in which a character has some rock music obsession that sounds totally unrealistic, particularly if the obsession is with rock music from a decade or two before the kid was born. (Oddly enough, the music was probably from an era when the author would have been listening to it. Hmmm.)

With The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, however, punk rock is far more organic to the story/plot. It also isn't used to simply define a character. As in, oh, that's the outsider kid who listens to rock. There is one of those, but he's significant to the story, a story that has to do with punk. He's more than just a few characteristics.

I do think the adult characters are a little over the top. They're cartoonish, while the child characters are far more rounded and realistic. The assistant principal, for instance, is a whipping boy for the dragon lady principal, and one dad makes a rare appearance to encourage his daughter to blackmail a teacher. I think, myself, that this is an illustration of how going for humor can sometimes undermine a story element.

Nonetheless, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman is a good read, and a definite relief from the relentless parade of fantasy and girl group stories. For kids who particularly like realistic fiction, it will be a joy.

Though I didn't mention it, Ms. Finkleman has some mystery going on, enough so it was nominated for an Edgar Award. So was Griff Carver by the way.

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