David Nicholls (2010) uses alternating point of view to show the complexities of a relationship over time. The narrative follows two Edinburgh University graduates from 1988 to 2007 in London. We connect with them “one day” every year. Both characters are English but from different socio-economic backgrounds. Dexter is a charismatic alcoholic working in television, and Emma is a literary liberal, scrambling to pay the rent. Nichols, writing in the third person, splits every chapter between the male and female perspectives. The voices evolve and converge as the characters age. Unrequited love drives the delightfully haphazard plot.
One Day is a laugh-out-loud satire for the Gen-X generation. The cultural references are spot on, although you will need a firsthand knowledge of the UK to get all the jokes. One problem with alternating voices is that the reader often bonds more to one than the other. I was impressed by how well Nicholls, as a male author, conveyed the female voice and avoided convention. If I had issues with a character it was with Dexter, not Emma. Also, the ending was too abrupt and random. Still, my husband and I really enjoyed this novel.
J.D. Salinger. The material pushes the envelope as to what is appropriate for younger readers, but I'm letting my 13-year-old daughter read it...soon. She picked it out while we were in NYC, and I stole it from her. Bad mom.
Two bored teens are on their own for Christmas in NYC. Dash told his mom he's with his dad and his dad he's with his mom. Lily's big brother is meant to be looking after her, but he's distracted by his new boyfriend. Lily leaves a moleskin notebook in a used bookstore with clues and a dare for a stranger who fancies J.D. Salinger. Dash picks up the challenge. The dares escalate from braving the Santa line at Macy's to clubbing at 2am for Jewish punk rock. Seriously. I usually find holiday books too schmaltzy, but this one had me laughing so hard I had to put it down.
Rachel Cohn wrote Lily's chapters and David Levithan wrote Dash's. This is the third time these authors have collaborated. They swapped chapters back and forth like the fictional notebook and a wacky but surprisingly cohesive story emerged. Occasionally the chapters fall out of time sequence but mostly the structure worked and was full of surprises. Having 2 authors also facilitated the rendering of gender. However, lonely Lily sounds more like a real teenager than jaded Dash. It's hard to imagine a 16-year-old boy more into words than messing around. For most of the book, the two are apart with parallel narratives, only connecting on the page. Both need to reconcile the Plutonic ideal in the notebook with the real person when they finally meet under the worst circumstances.
Dash: "I was a firm believer in preventive prevarication-in other words, lying early in order to free myself later on."
Lily: "I'm pretty sure my curfew is suspended on holidays. Like alternate side of the street parking rules."
Wendelin Van Draanen is a he-said-she-said story for a younger audience. Every scene is replayed in paired chapters for a dual perspective. I found this construct too repetitive. It was, however, interesting to see which details were important enough to be noticed by each character. Unfortunately, I disliked the boy and found the girl too good to be true. My favorite character was a tree. The narrative is set in eighth grade with flashbacks. Although Flipped is labeled young adult fiction, it would appeal more to tweens than to teens because of its sweet innocence.
Simone Elkeles has written several novels in alternating boy/girl POV chapters. Each chapter is labeled by character and narrated in first person. Elkeles uses dual narration effectively to break stereotypes and to show that there are two sides of a story. Her romances are a bit formulaic: good girl falls for bad misunderstood boy.
In Perfect Chemistry (2009) a Hispanic gang member is paired with a popular rich cheerleader as lab partners. I loved Alex but never connected with Brittany. The story about gang warfare was gripping, but the schmaltzy epilogue went too far in tying up all the plot strings. There are two more novels in this trilogy, following Alex’s brothers. Drugs, sex and violence make these novels upper young adult.
Having sampled these five books and others, I have settled on the alternating first person narration with labeled chapters because it is easiest for readers to follow. I won’t be replaying scenes in NOT CRICKET, but for pivotal scenes one character will narrate the first half and the other character the second half, a technique Elkeles employs very well.
I actually prefer the writing in One Day and Dash & Lily, but Elkeles's narrative structure would work better for my story because my characters, like hers, are in school together and sharing scenes. I’m aiming to use my dual voices to show that English really is two languages divided between the US and the UK. Structural form can shape the story; it’s the author’s invisible hand at work.
Reviewer's Disclaimer: no free products were received. Flipped was a library book (recommended by Maria Padian –thanks!) and I purchased the other books. My daughter picked out Lily and Dash with her book allowance. She is reading it now and loving it, although a bit traumatized by my book snatching.
Book Blog Watch for the Holidays:
A List of Books From the House of Edward.
Check out my Gift Book Suggestions from 2010 (posted 2 weeks ago)