I have an interest in adult fiction with child characters, mainly because working out the difference between a piece of writing published for adults with child main characters and a piece of writing published for children with child main characters is a bit mystifying to me. So today I spent some time reading Composite Body by Tony Tulathimutte, which was published in the the Winter, 2011 issue of Cimarron Review.
Composite Body is about a fourteen-year-old boy whose divorced mother moves the two of them in with a man he barely knows. The adults plan to marry, and the man has a teenage daughter. Teen faced with becoming part of a blended family is a traditional (and, yes, some might say stereotypical) YA scenario. In fact, not too long ago I read an entire YA novel with a similar situation, Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin. Both works also involve the teen male main character bonding with the teen female main character who fills a stepsister role, either actually or potentially.
How is the adult short story different from the YA novel?
1. Voice. Joe, the narrator of Composite Body, has a very straight, lay-it-out there voice, while I described Declan, in Notes From the Blender as being a "teen outsider, wiseass cliche, but...funny in a funny-that-works sort of way." Nothing about Joe and Composite Body could be called funny.
2. The relationships between the main characters. Joe and Lorraine become anorexic together. Lorraine is frustrated by her unsuccessful attempts to become an actress. Joe joins her in starving once she tells him that food is pumped into you by others and creates flesh that covers who you really are. If you get numb on the inside from not eating, "then you can make people feel cold just by looking at them, and nobody can do anything bad to you, no matter how bad they want to.' She let go of my hand. 'Just by looking.'
That was when I joined her. We were going to be honest, and we were going to keep everybody and every nasty thing the hell out of us." Nasty things might include Lorraine's father, his mother's fiance, who slowly becomes a darker and darker figure.
Declan, on the other hand, is hot for his soon-to-be stepsister and has to come to terms with them having a more sibling-like relationship.
3. The outcome. The YA book has a more positive outcome than the adult short story. That is expected of books for young people. YA is expected to have a climactic epiphany of new maturity, maturity, I'm assuming, being considered a positive thing. I'm not sure that I totally understand the ending of Composite Body, but I'm thinking that poor Joe identifies way, way too closely with his almost stepsister. I didn't see anything positive there or anything that suggested that Joe is more mature as a result of his experience, just far more troubled.
Though I found Composite Body more believable than Notes From the Blender, I wouldn't say either work is superior to the other. They are different in terms of what they are--adult short story vs. YA novel. And I'm afraid that reading Composite Body so soon after Notes From the Blender has done nothing to address the issue of why one author went one way and the others another with what is very similar material.