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Category Archive for 'Coming-of-age'

Fourteen-year-old Erik Wassman has been working on a graphic novel and keeping himself otherwise occupied in the summer of 1962, hoping to get past some of the problems he faces. He is a very young fourteen, just beginning to look at the world from a wider perspective, and his father has just told him it will be a “rough summer,” as his mother is dying of cancer in hospital. Hoping to make life easier for Erik, his father has arranged for him to go to the family’s lakeside summer retreat on Lake Möckeln with his older brother Henry, now twenty-two. He has also suggested that Erik invite a classmate, Edmund, whom Erik does not know well, to come to the lake with him. The summer place is only fifteen miles from home, and it will be possible for Erik to visit his mother if he needs to. Author Håkan Nesser, the winner of many prizes for his crime novels, maintains a quiet calm here as he introduces his main characters and setting, especially with Erik, and as new characters are introduced, it becomes clear that much of this novel will be concerned with Erik’s psychological growth, rather than with hard crime, the dark machinations which lead to murder, and the complex motivations which usually accompany it. Then a murder takes place.

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Described by Culture Trip as “the most prominent female writer in twentieth century Hungary,” Magda Szabó (1917 – 2007) was almost unknown in the English speaking world until 2016. Since that time, three more novels have appeared in translation, to outstanding reviews and literary success. Szabo’s novels are dramatic, psychologically intense, and historically focused, emphasizing everyday life and its trials and complexities, often in particular historical moments. A resident of Budapest when the Nazis occupied the country in 1943, author Szabo writes from experience about that fraught time in ABIGAIL. Main character Georgina Vitay, an independent girl of fourteen, is secretly removed from her home and everyone she knows in Budapest and driven overnight by her father to a severe, almost cult-like boarding school in Arkod, eastern Hungary (now Serbia). From the day she arrives, the school controls every aspect of her life, keeping her safe from any major conflicts or warfare to come. Her father, a general in the Hungarian army, also works as a secret agent against the Nazi occupation, and he knows that if the enemy learns where Georgina (Gina) is living, that she could be captured and used as a pawn to force him into betraying his own goals of a free Hungary. As Gina tries to grow up in this difficult atmosphere, the Germans are invading Budapest. Exciting novel also appropriate for Young Adults.

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Saul Indian Horse, who tells this story of his life as an Ojibwe living in a non-native society, is in his thirties as the novel opens, and he is at an alcohol rehabilitation facility to which he has been sent by social workers at the hospital where he has been a patient for six weeks. Now alcohol-free for thirty days, he admits that now it is time for his hardest work to begin. “If we want to live at peace with ourselves, we need to tell our stories.” Saul Indian Horse is just four years old in 1957, when his nine-year-old brother Benjamin disappears. His sister vanished five years before. These kidnappings are all part of a brutal program to separate aboriginal children from their families and their culture, send them to a school where they will live apart from everything and everyone they ever knew, and teach them English and the Canadian school curriculum. Ultimately, the goal is to turn them all into “Canadians,” without connections to their aboriginal past. “I saw kids die of tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, and broken hearts. I saw runaways carried back, frozen solid as boards. I saw wrists slashed and, one time, a young boy impaled on the tines of a pitchfork that he’d shoved through himself.” These children universally yearn for the freedom to be outdoors in nature, sharing the spirits of the earth and sky which have been so much a part of them until now. Fortunately, Saul Indian Horse is able to find some salvation in all this. St. Jerome’s has a hockey team, and he, at age eight, is desperate to be part of it, though he has never played. For Saul, hockey becomes the equivalent of a natural religion.

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Giving birth alone in Guadeloupe after her lover, Lansana Diarra, returned to his home in Mali, Simone Némélé waited in vain for the ticket he had promised to send her so that she and their newborn twins, Ivan and Ivana, could join him in Mali. Simone worked in the sugarcane fields, but she tried hard to ensure that her children would have an education and be able to pursue their own interests during their lives. Though they were very different in personality, Ivan and Ivana dearly loved each other, but as they grew up, responding to the political and philosophical movements to which they were exposed, they began to move in different directions. As author Maryse Conde tells their stories, she creates two young people and their friends who feel real to the reader – characters who have many unique personal characteristics – but she clearly wants to tell a bigger story than a simple family saga set in exotic parts of the world. Here Ivan and Ivana ultimately become examples of a broader population of twenty-first century youth who must deal with displacement, racial and gender issues, and political and social issues. Some disaffected youth, as we see here, are often open to radicalization to solve social problems, while some others remain open to change and are willing to help bring it about through more peaceful means.

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Bridging the gap between a novel and a novella, Space Invaders by Nona Fernandez is, in fact, as short as a novella, but it feels more like a much larger novel in the grandeur of its themes, its well-developed controlling ideas, the world-changing historical events which give it drama, and the intense, literary style which brings it all to life and makes it work. This powerful story takes place in Santiago de Chile during the years of the Pinochet regime from 1980, when the children who are the main characters here are ten years old, and extends to 1994 and later, when they are in their twenties and middle age. Eight school children from Santiago who are close friends tell this story, which never succumbs to “cuteness” or patronizing simplicity here, as these bright, curious, and observant children react to conflicts around them, the military presence, and the sometimes bloody events which erupt and affect their lives as they grow up. Dreams, memories, and imagination form their visions of the past here and become even more clearly defined as this story develops. Time flips back and forth and around throughout the short sections, and the narrative develops dramatically and quickly. An important, unusual, and sensitive story of a tumultuous time in Chile.

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